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Women and children on the streets of Herat

James Hutchinson

ITL Afghanistan update: A new found respect

The ITL project Access to Justice in Afghanistan is coming into its final few months. It set out to raise awareness, especially amongst the most marginalised people in rural communities of their human rights. It also sought to bridge the gap between Afghanistan's two parallel legal systems. In recent months it has had to adapt to a global pandemic, but as we hear from our colleague Anita Rahmani, there has been evidence of the project bearing fruit.

Building peace through access to justice

For more than three decades, war and conflict have been a major barrier to Afghanistan’s development and have caused breakdowns in social, economic and political structures. Peace and stability is vital for the country’s future, but to have any chance of being sustainable it needs to be underpinned by a justice system which operates fairly and effectively for all citizens and protects their fundamental human rights.

For too many citizens, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, including women and girls, access to justice has been a distant dream, and crimes including beating, mutilation and forced/ exchange marriages (Baad/ Badal), have too often gone unpunished.

One reason for this is that citizens are currently caught between two legal systems at huge cost to their human rights. People in rural communities, especially the poorest and most vulnerable are caught between these two systems and are completely unaware of their rights. As a result, too many crimes are going unpunished leading to a culture of impunity.

Infographic Access to Justice project

Over the last three years your support has played a crucial role in addressing these issues. At its heart, the Access to Justice project is about power of people to come together to affect systemic change and is rooted in the Afghani people’s vision of what they need.

Anita Rahmani, Christian Aid Communications Officer based in Afghanistan shares her reflections on the project’s impact in the audio interview below.

A growing awareness of human rights

A major cause of human rights violations in Afghanistan is ignorance of citizens about laws and the relevance of justice in shaping good governance. To help generate awareness, television and radio messages developed through this project have been broadcast across media channels in Herat and Badghis provinces. Mass media campaigns like this are an effective way to ensure the messaging has maximum reach. In Herat alone, it is estimated that these messages reached approximately 300,000 people.

Alongside this, our partner has produced and distributed posters to raise awareness of legal recourse for guardianship disputes, marriage related disputes and access to free legal aid. The combined results of these efforts are clear to see, as there are now open discussions within the community on issues such as human rights and women’s rights. This is a real shift from the beginning of the project, and a reflection of how the Access to Justice Project is helping to mobilise change within communities.

Increased capacity of legal providers

Your support is also helping us to ensure both the formal and informal justice systems operate more effectively and responsively, particularly for poor and marginalised people. A major focus of the project has been providing training for those involved in the delivery of justice. In the last six months our partner has conducted –

  • Human rights training for 40 participants from the formal justice system
  • Anti-corruption training for 20 participants from the formal justice system
  • Legal awareness training for 90 local Community Based Human Rights Committees (CBHRCs)
  • Training on human rights, Islamic law and gender based violence for 85 traditional leaders
Ms. Susan one of the project beneficiaries attending Human Rights Training.

Ms. Susan one of the project beneficiaries attending Human Rights Training.

CBHRCs are now proactively referring serious criminal cases to the formal court system. This was not happening when the project began and is a vital step forward. This is just one example of how successful the project has been in building bridges to enable these two legal systems to co-exist effectively alongside each other.

Our partners also identified the need to help some women who are suffering severe economic hardships as a result of legal cases. As a result, seven women have been helped to set up tailoring and beauty parlor businesses in Herat province, enabling them to provide for themselves and their families.

Shirin’s Story

Shirin lives in Badghis province. A couple of years ago she got married and moved into her in-law’s house. Unfortunately, following her marriage she was subjected to violence from her mother-in-law. Eventually Shirin couldn’t tolerate the violence and asked her husband to take the land they had received as dowry, so they could build an independent life together. However, her father-in-law refused to hand over the land. Shirin brought the claim to CBHRC members asking them for justice. The CBHRC worked with community elders and both parties, to broker an agreement. Now Shirin and her husband have their own land and they are able to live with their new son in love and peace.

When a female member of the CBHRC informed me about my rights and the concept of project, I became eager to share my problem with CBHRC. After sharing the problem, they helped me a lot till I could get my dowry and now I have a life without violence alongside my husband and my child. I am thankful of your intervention.

- Shirin, mother and beneficiary of the Access to Justice project.

The impact of COVID-19

In March, Afghanistan’s minister of Public Health shared estimates that up to 25 million Afghans could be infected with coronavirus (69% of the population). Only time will tell whether these predictions will prove accurate. However, we are already seeing that the Western provinces of Afghanistan (especially Herat) are emerging as the epicentre of the country's outbreak. This is partly due to the influx of migrant workers who have come to Herat from neighbouring Iran, one of the global coronavirus hotspots. In addition, people are failing to observe vital social distancing, health and hygiene messaging due to cultural barriers, illiteracy and political mistrust.

To safeguard beneficiaries and staff, from April project staff began adapting their activities to deliver them remotely whenever possible, including remote monitoring, awareness raising and provision of legal advice. Unfortunately, activities which require face-to-face gatherings, such as training and exposure visits have had to be cancelled or delayed in order to prevent the spread of the disease. However, we are also mobilising the local mechanisms created through this project to respond to the pandemic distributing -

  • 500 hygiene kits to CBHRC members and poor people inside target communities
  • 100 disinfection kits to Justice and Attorney departments
  • Covid-19 awareness posters to all CBHRCs and legal departments and in public places
Distribution of disinfection kits in Herat province

Distribution of disinfection kits in Herat province

Looking ahead

In August we start the final project evaluation, which will include data collection and analysis, including key stakeholder interviews. By evaluating the project against the ITL criteria we will assess how successful it was in achieving its aims, make recommendations for the future, and extrapolate key learnings for future Christian Aid programmes. We look forward to sharing these results with you towards the end of the year.