Soldiers Promote Legal Awareness in Afghanistan
By Army Pfc. Charles Wolfe
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Feb. 19, 2009 Legal personnel from the 1st Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team are working to improve governance and promote legal awareness throughout Afghanistan.
Army Master Sgt. Timothy Conner and Army Capt. Michael Vincent take notes as local leaders explain the needs of their respective villages during a meeting to promote legal awareness throughout Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Charles Wolfe
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The soldiers spend a significant portion of their time helping Afghan officials gain support of a court system and a universal set of laws among a people who often turn to a system of tribal law.
“Part of our responsibility as Task Force Duke’s legal team is to promote the rule of law throughout [Nangarhar, Nuristan, Konar and Laghman provinces],” said Army Capt. Michael Vincent, the task force’s deputy judge advocate.
Afghan rule of law dictates crimes and punishments, but also requires action within a system some residents may question. Instead, many Afghans turn to “pashtunwali,” a system of tribal law.
“The Afghan people, particularly at the tribal level, are holding onto the system of settling disputes of all kinds through the tribal elder system,” Vincent said. “They view it as quicker and more enforceable than what they perceive the formal system can do.”
However, because of the many differences among tribes and regions of Afghanistan, the lack of a universal legal system can lead to deliberation over appropriate punishments.
“It’s kind of a law that’s been developed over years in that tribe, so there’s vast differences from tribe to tribe and region to region on the punishments that are handed out,” Army Master Sgt. Timothy Conner, senior paralegal for the task force, said. “Obviously, that doesn’t work in the [overall] community.”
Efforts are being made to communicate with natives across the country as the brigade tries to educate Afghans about putting their legal system to use. Soldiers employ a number of outlets to garner publicity for their cause. “News advertisements, newspaper articles, or even just word of mouth, they all help us spread legal awareness,” Conner said.
The publications, meetings and programs are part of an effort to bridge the government to its constituents, allowing the citizens of Afghanistan to solve their disputes in a peaceful fashion.
“The ultimate goal is to engender confidence in all Afghans in their own government’s ability to protect them and to enforce the laws that create a civil society.” Vincent said.
(Army Pfc. Charles Wolfe serves with the 1st Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)