In commemoration of the International Day of the Endangered Lawyer, which focuses on Afghanistan this year, a Kabul-based lawyer explains how individual lawyers and the legal profession have become obsolete and even endangered under Taliban rule...
In August 2021, the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan, and the judicial and prosecution system that had been in place for more than 20 years has since crumbled. Lawyers, judges, and prosecutors have detected a persistent threat, and things are only getting worse. While most Afghan attorneys have fled to the US or Europe, some continue to live in insecurity, and many have lost their licenses as a result of the absence of an independent organization overseeing legal matters related to lawyers and attorneys.
In light of the above and in commemoration of the Day of the Endangered Lawyer, I seek to shed light on the struggles faced by Afghan lawyers for the international community.
Afghanistan now lacks an independent body that oversees and governs lawyers. One of the Taliban’s first moves was to merge the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association with the Ministry of Justice. Law licenses have been revoked and there is a lack of confidence in the Taliban-run Ministry of Justice (MoJ). Nevertheless, lobbying efforts like protests and official letters to senior Taliban leaders have proven ineffective. Instead, the Taliban has intimidated and even imprisoned several lawyers and former bar association employees.
Moreover, the merger of the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association with the MoJ contradicted to the Advocates Law and other relevant legislation.
The Taliban government’s second significant action was to declare the Advocates Law null and void and to develop a system of governance inside the MoJ to handle the affairs and licenses of lawyers. All current and past government lawyers were obligated under the new rules to reapply for and receive new licenses from the MoJ. The MoJ has also established new criteria for competency wherein lawyers are evaluated on several subjects, primarily sharia and Islamic laws and regulations. It has also created new regulations for admitted lawyers. For instance, licensed lawyers are now made to sign a commitment letter acknowledging that they would grow a proper beard and promising to appear physically in the MoJ to demonstrate that they had done so.
The examination process as well as the new policies have caused many lawyers to lose their jobs or have their licenses canceled. Considering this, on the whole, we doubt that we can still practice law in the country. In the absence of an impartial and independent body with a responsive regulatory body it is difficult to believe that impartial legal proceedings can take place in the country or that justice can be achieved.
Female attorneys have also been prohibited from taking qualifying examinations and renewing their licenses due to Taliban policies and practices. According to the MoJ, no female attorney has yet received a license. On top of the already reduced number of lawyers, we are also suffering from the complete removal of women from the legal profession. Moreover, women across the country will have reduced or no access to justice because there are no longer female lawyers available to represent them. According to reports, due to the Taliban’s stance toward women in the country, the majority of Afghanistan’s judicial bodies won’t even accept women’s legal and social petitions.
Additionally, the country now lacks female judges and prosecutors. Since the Taliban acquired control of Afghanistan, all investments made in the judicial and prosecution sectors, particularly in teaching and preparing a significant number of women to study and practice law, have been destroyed.
We cannot imagine what the future of the country will look like without women taking their place in its social and civic life.
The Taliban have ordered both public and private universities to remain closed until its leadership decides on the education and higher education of women in Afghanistan. Therefore, at present, there are no doors open to female students. Given that the Taliban forbid women to pursue higher education and practice law in the country, female law students and recent graduates have no future in Afghanistan.
Additionally, the number of sharia schools in the form of madrasas has been growing daily since the Taliban gained control of the country. According to reports, Taliban officials are vying with one another to build the greatest number of religious schools. Those who have graduated from such schools or even briefly attended them currently rule the country. Long-term safety concerns arise from the fact that neither the Ministry of Education nor the Ministry of Higher Education oversees these institutions. Nobody understands what is going on within these institutions, and there is no set curriculum or qualifications for their teachers.
Since August 2021, a number of lawyers are reported to have been detained by the security agencies of the Taliban. These detentions are believed to have been based on the fact that some of the lawyers had represented US/NATO contractors and former government officials. In one instance, a lawyer was held in custody for over three days just because his client had previously served in the parliament.
Afghanistan’s major law firms and law offices owned by licensed lawyers have also been shut down in the wake of the Taliban gaining power. This led to the unemployment of a large number of young men and women who were working in the legal industry. A significant number of these law firms and law offices also formerly worked with the previous government to implement legal education and advocacy projects enabling lawyers and other legal professionals to get involved in the legislative process and deepening rule of law in the country. The country’s legal industry has collapsed and with it the sector’s contribution to education, government, and access to justice.
The Taliban’s courts are meanwhile implementing Islamic and sharia law rules and regulations in which not everyone who studied or is licensed to practice law is formally trained. It is also reported that a large number of lawyers and prosecutors who are currently practicing law are only sharia law graduates with basic sharia law knowledge and most of them have no formal legal or even sharia law certificates.
The lawyers who are left in Afghanistan are facing obsolescence. Their independent regulatory body has been taken and their jobs and livelihoods and, in some cases, even their freedom along with it. Apart from all of that, they have no place in the present judicial system.
Suggested citation: Anonymous, Lawyers and the Legal Profession Face Extinction in Afghanistan, JURIST – Professional Commentary, January 23, 2023, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2023/01/lawyers-and-the-legal-profession-face-extinction-in-afghanistan.
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