Saturday, December 20, 2014

Statement by H.E. Zahir Tanin Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations at the General Assembly Debate on the Situation in Afghanistan

 

Thank you, Mr. President. As we come together to adopt this year’s General Assembly Resolution on the Situation in Afghanistan, I would like to thank all Member States that participated in the negotiation of the resolution. I would also like to thank Ambassador Braun, Ambassador Thoms and their teams, particularly Daniel Schemske, at the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations for their hard work facilitating the negotiations.

 

Mr. President,

 

At the end of this year, the government of Afghanistan will take full responsibility for the security of the country. The mandate of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), authorized by the Security Council under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, is set to expire on December 31st and Afghanistan will move towards a more normalized international status as a sovereign nation. We have been striving for this moment for the last decade. It is a major accomplishment and an important step towards achieving a peaceful, sovereign and prosperous Afghanistan.

 

While the NATO combat role will end, Afghanistan and NATO remain committed to a long-term strategic partnership. NATO will continue to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) beyond 2014 through the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) on the basis of the NATO-Afghanistan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and the United States of America-Afghanistan Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement (BSA). We welcome the General Assembly’s message of support for the new mission. I also would like to take this opportunity to express my government’s profound gratitude to all those international civilian and military men and women who served shoulder to shoulder with their Afghan partners towards a better future for the people of Afghanistan. The Afghan people will always remember and honor their sacrifice and dedication.

 

Mr. President,

 

Afghanistan has emerged from an historic election that marked the first democratic transfer of power from one president to the next, an important milestone in Afghanistan’s multifaceted transition. While the challenges that arose in the election period tested our resolve, the wisdom of the country’s leadership and the support of its friends and partners allowed us to overcome the difficulties and move towards a unified, peaceful, democratic and prosperous future. The establishment of a government of national unity has generated an atmosphere of broader political inclusivity and participation; it will enable Afghans from all walks of life to contribute to the economic and social development of the country, the sustainability of the Afghan state and its security forces and the peace and security of Afghanistan and the wider region.

 

The newly elected President of Afghanistan, His Excellency Dr. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, and the national unity government are vigorously pursuing a comprehensive reform program to deliver on their campaign promises and to promote peace, stability and prosperity across the country. I would like to highlight three key components of this comprehensive reform agenda:

 

1. Eliminating corruption. Corruption corrodes state effectiveness, security, public faith in government and progress towards peace and prosperity. It feeds insurgency, patronage and illegal interests. Tackling corruption is paramount to the government’s reform agenda. In his inaugural address, President Ghani stressed his zero-tolerance policy in regards to corruption, and as soon as he assumed the Presidency, he ordered the Supreme Court to reopen an inquiry into the Kabul Bank fraud case. Since then, the court has sentenced the bank’s executives to 15 years in prison, ordered the payment of substantial fines, and froze the assets of those accused of corruption. Other suspects will now be investigated for their involvement in the $900 million embezzlement scandal. This courageous step demonstrates the government’s firm commitment to eradicate corruption and end impunity.

 

2. Enhancing democratic accountability, governance and rule of law. Afghanistan’s leadership is in the process of establishing a functional, merit-based cabinet as part of its wider commitment to build effective governance at every level. In addition, we will reform electoral institutions, electoral processes and relevant laws as well as necessary amendments of the constitution. The government will also focus on reforming the judiciary and all law enforcement institutions, including by taking concrete actions to expand access to justice and uphold the rights of all Afghan citizens, particularly women and girls. I would like to call attention to the government’s recent adoption of the Afghanistan National Action Plan for women, peace and security, which represents an important step in this regard.

 

3. Promoting economic growth and social development. The national unity government is committed to economic reforms that stimulate growth and tackle poverty, inequality, and unemployment. These include strengthening cooperation between the government and the private sector, removing obstacles to investment and trade, promoting sustainable livelihoods, reinvigorating counter-narcotics efforts, and using aid effectively to reinforce development and stability. Continuing implementation of the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework remains central to these efforts and we look forward to the next ministerial meeting on Afghanistan to be held in London next month. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the United Kingdom for hosting this important meeting.

 

Mr. President,

 

The Afghan people have been victims of terrorism and violence for almost 40 years. The violence perpetrated by terrorists, extremists and illegal armed groups continues to have daily, devastating impacts on all civilians, particularly women and children and poses the greatest obstacle to political, economic, and social progress in Afghanistan. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) continue to demonstrate professionalism and courage in protecting the Afghan people. Moving forward, the national unity government will work tirelessly to continue to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) to uphold the security of the nation, and to preserve the achievements of the last decade. The continuing support of our international partners, namely through the new NATO mission, is crucial to the success of these efforts.

 

But Mr. President, the country will not achieve peace through military efforts alone. President Ghani has called on all armed opponents of the government to enter political talks and play their part in building a strong and successful Afghanistan. The government of Afghanistan is working to establish a wider inclusive political framework for lasting peace including a new outreach to the armed opposition and national reconciliation. This is an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process, but at the same time we recognize the important role of regional and neighboring countries, particularly the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, in contributing to our efforts to end the conflict. President Ghani initiated serious efforts to further a political settlement during his recent visits to Saudi Arabia, China and Pakistan and his meetings and conversations with the leaders of neighboring, regional and partner countries.

 

Mr. President,

 

Regional cooperation is not only key to peace and security but also to prosperity in Afghanistan and the wider region. In this connection, the government of Afghanistan is committed to deepening cooperation with its neighbors and regional partners. Last week President Ghani paid an historic visit to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where the leaders of the two countries opened a friendly, forward-looking dialogue and made concrete agreements related to improving bilateral economic, trade and investment relations. The visit generated an unprecedented surge of optimism and set the groundwork for long-term cooperation between the two nations.

 

In October, President Ghani conducted another historic state visit to the People’s Republic of China, where bold steps were taken towards increasing cooperation in economic development and stabilization efforts. The visit coincided with the annual Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference on 31 October, which reaffirmed commitments to strengthen regional security and cooperation for a secure and stable Afghanistan. We are grateful to the government of China for its leadership and for hosting the meeting and thank the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for hosting the next Ministerial Meeting of the Istanbul Process in 2015. The president of Afghanistan looks forward to furthering regional engagement by attending the upcoming South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit at the end of this month in Kathmandu.

 

Deepening regional cooperation will open the doors to a flourishing continental economy in the heart of Asia. Afghanistan has great potential to enhance the development and prosperity of the entire region by unlocking the country’s capacity to serve as a hub for connectivity and trade across Asia. This will entail key energy and power projects such as the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan– Pakistan–India Pipeline (TAPI) and the Central Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project (CASA 1000) as well as the building of a wide regional transport network including railways and highways. All regional partners can play a role through working together and engaging chambers of commerce and business communities for a joint and coordinated action to turn potential into reality.

 

Mr. President,

 

As the new government focuses on a renewed regional cooperation, our long-term partnerships with the wider international community remain the backbone of our efforts for peace, security, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan. The support of the international community has allowed us to build a new Afghanistan and will continue to be crucial in the transformation decade ahead. The President’s upcoming visit to the London conference and his upcoming visit to the United States will be an important step in furthering our mutual cooperation and partnership with the international community.

 

Mr. President,

 

The past 13 years have seen the international community’s unprecedented engagement in supporting the government of Afghanistan in its efforts to build peace and stability. While the goals set over a decade ago have not been fully realized, Afghanistan is determined to bring sustainable peace, security and prosperity to the country with the support of our international partners. The government of Afghanistan’s ambitious agenda of reform, the collaboration of all Afghan political forces, and the support of the Afghan people will enable us to put an end to the destructive narrative of toxic extremism and reach the beginning of an era of peace. In doing so, we will change the course of history in the heart of Asia, to the great benefit of our people, our neighbors, the wider region, and the international community.

 

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

Ambassador Tanin speaks about Legal Aid in Afghanistan in a Panel Discussion at the United Nations

On 13 November 2014 at the United Nations, the Permanent Missions of Afghanistan, South Africa and the United States to the United Nations, the Rule of Law Unit (on behalf of the UN Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group) and the International Legal Foundation co-organized a panel discussion on “Enhancing Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems”. The panel featured H.E. Ambassador Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN, the Hon. Judge Dunstan Mlambo, President of the Gauteng Division of the High Court of South Africa and Chair of the Board of Directors for Legal Aid South Africa, Judge Lisa Foster, Director of the United States Department of Justice’s Access to Justice Initiative, Ms. Jennifer Smith, Executive Director of the International Legal Foundation. Ms. Simone Monasebian, Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, moderate the discussion.

All panellists stressed the importance of access to legal aid. “No justice system can be credible without legal aid”, said the Hon. Dunstan Mlambo. Ms Foster discussed the establishment of legal aid services across the globe, including in Afghanistan.

Ambassador Tanin explained the historical context of the justice system in Afghanistan and the significant achievements made over the past 10 years to expand access to legal aid services. “Decades of conflict,” he said “rendered Afghanistan’s legal system virtually non-existent.” Now, legal aid is available across all provinces in Afghanistan. A mbassador Tanin emphasised the important role played by international partners, civil society and non-governmental legal aid organizations in expanding access to legal aid.

While significant progress has been made in Afghanistan, many challenges remain. These include lack of awareness about defence rights, financial constraints, scarcity of justice professionals, limited capacity in regional areas and corruption, Ambassador Tanin explained. Moving forward, he noted, “the new government of Afghanistan will prioritize combating corruption and strengthening the rule of law countrywide.” However, the sustained support of the international community and non-governmental organizations will remain central to these efforts.

Following individual statements, the panellists answered questions from the audience about legal aid provision in conflict and post-conflict settings, understanding legal aid in the development context, and the challenges of monitoring and evaluation activities. The event was well attended by Government representatives, civil society and staff of various United Nation bodies.

Statement by H.E. Ambassador Zahir Tanin Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the UN Enhancing Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems

 

Thank you. I would like to thank the Permanent Missions of South Africa and the United States, the United Nations Rule of Law Resource and Coordination Group, and the International Legal Foundation for organizing this important event. I would also like to thank Mr. Selous for his kind introduction, the Honorable Dustan Mlambo, Ms. Foster, and Ms. Smith for their remarks and to Ms. Monasebian for her able moderation of the event.

 

Chosroes, the great King of Persia, once said “Do not stay in a country which lacks these five things: a strong rule, a just judge, a fixed market, a wise physician, and a flowing river.” Decades of war and conflict in Afghanistan destroyed all of Chosroes’ five markers except the country’s flowing rivers. The other four, particularly rule of law and justice, were destroyed as a result of sustained violence in my country.

A modern justice system has been part of Afghanistan’s culture and history since the early 20th century, particularly since King Amanullah developed a forward-looking constitutional framework and legal code in the 1920s. However by the 1990s, decades of conflict had rendered Afghanistan’s legal system virtually non-existent. In the dark period of Taliban control, extremists ruled on the basis of their own strict interpretation of Sharia law. Mullahs replaced professional judges and prosecutors and ordered swift and exceedingly harsh punishments. Accused persons did not have the right to legal representation, or more accurately, any meaningful legal representation. The infamous office of the religious police controlled the Taliban’s system of punishment, employing violence in the name of justice. Despite the creation of a Legal Aid Department in 1989, waves of war and chaos prevented the department from providing defense services to the indigent. In fact, the department existed in name only.

 

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 great efforts have been made to reform the justice system. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, adopted in 2004, is based upon the supremacy of rule of law and rule by law; securing these values has been one of the highest priorities of the government of Afghanistan since its adoption. Access to legal aid is central to this priority: Article 31 of the Constitution guarantees the right to counsel to all accused persons and mandates the government to provide free counsel to the poor. The article states: “Upon arrest, or to prove truth, every individual can appoint a defense attorney…In criminal cases, the State shall appoint a defense attorney for the indigent.”

 

Building upon this precedent, the government of Afghanistan has made great strides towards the expansion of access to legal aid with the support of our international partners, civil society and the crucial assistance of legal aid service providers such as the International Legal Foundation and other organizations. I would like to highlight the very important role played by NGOs in providing legal aid and defense lawyers. This has helped reduce violence against women in my country. The achievements that are important include:

 

  1. Increased availability of criminal defense services for the poor. This has made judicial proceedings fairer, and has reduced the rate of arbitrary pre-trial detentions in Afghanistan.

 

  1. Progress in protecting the rights of accused persons. The rights of the accused are increasingly recognized in the country by defense lawyers, judges, police and the accused themselves.

 

  1. Enhanced role of defense counsel in providing legal aid to the accused. Defense lawyers today play an active role in criminal trials, including through efforts to obtain the release of persons that are unlawfully detained, challenge the use of torture, and win acquittals for the wrongly accused. Lawyers are also gaining unprecedented access to arrested persons at police stations. They often access the accused within the first 72 hours of arrest, which helps to protect the accused from unlawful and arbitrary police action and ensures access to justice.

 

  1. An increasing number of lawyers. Since the fall of the Taliban the number of defense lawyers has jumped approximately thirty fold: in 2001, defense lawyers were virtually non-existent in Afghanistan. Today there are around 3000.

 

  1. An increase in the number of organizations that promote legal aid. These include an independent legal aid board, a directorate for legal aid within the Ministry of Justice, an independent bar association and the development of clinical legal education programs with local universities.

 

While we have made significant progress in enhancing access to legal aid in Afghanistan, many challenges remain. Financial constraints in the justice sector continue to be severe, which effects the salaries of defense lawyers and justice professionals in general. The country still suffers from a scarcity of qualified justice professionals, particularly at the local and district levels. Disparities exist in terms of access to and awareness of legal aid both by the accused and in terms of police knowledge of their obligations towards those in custody between the cities and the peripheries; justice is often limited to urban centers. Although one of our achievements is that since 2001 justice has expanded to all provinces, access to justice remains weak in district and local centers. In addition, Afghans still lack trust in the justice system.

 

Corruption continues to be one of the most pressing challenges to our judicial system and across law enforcement in general. It compromises the quality of legal aid service in the country and obstructs the poor and disadvantaged from benefiting from the legal system. Its effects are far-reaching: as Afghanistan’s new President Dr. Ashraf Ghani explained in his inauguration speech, corruption in the judicial branch paves grounds for insecurity.

 

Moving forward, the new government of Afghanistan will prioritize combating corruption and strengthening the rule of law countrywide. We recognize that improvements cannot happen in a vacuum: a coordinated, effective and sustainable criminal legal aid system depends upon improvements in other areas including accountability and state capacity.

 

I hope that Afghanistan’s experience sheds light on the importance, as well the challenges, of providing access to effective legal aid in countries emerging from conflict; in many ways Afghanistan’s situation is not unique. Most conflict and post-conflict countries face acute challenges in expanding access to legal aid. Yet the citizens of these countries are often the most vulnerable, impoverished, marginalized and therefore the most in need of legal aid. Moreover, the restoration of public trust in justice, the reinstatement of the rule of law and enhanced access to legal aid will allow these countries to rebuild their nations and find lasting stability and peace.

 

To this end, it is crucial that governments prioritize enhancing legal aid and access to justice. The sustained support of the international community and organizations like the International Legal Foundation are essential to these efforts. I call on members of the International Community to recognize the challenges I have outlined, and to support countries like mine to promote legal aid.

 

Thank you.