KABUL, Afghanistan, June 12, 2015 – On the same day that Afghanistan was recently named the second-worst country in rule of law by an independent U.S.-based organization working to advance the rule of law worldwide, members of the Afghan National Army, or ANA, were combating this label by taking part in a legal training workshop here May 31 – June 4.
NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, in cooperation with the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies, hosted the event for Afghan army and other ministerial legal professionals.
Twenty-eight attorneys, prosecutors and investigators attended the workshop, which was designed to provide a forum for legal training and discussion among both U.S. and Afghan professionals. The topics of discussion ranged from observing and respecting human rights and civilian authority, law of armed conflict principles, rules of engagement, investigations, to judicial procedures and independence.
The only country ranking worse than Afghanistan in the World Justice Project's rule of law rankings was Venezuela. Those scoring best in the organization's rankings released earlier this month were Denmark and Norway.
“The curriculum emphasizes fundamental core concepts that serve as the foundation for building and maintaining fair and equitable military and law enforcement operations,” said Maj. Jason De Los Santos, who coordinated the workshop and is the Resolute Support senior adviser to the ANA General Staff Legal Department. “These (core concepts) are vital to sustaining governmental legitimacy and transparency.”
The primary focus of the week was to facilitate an exchange of ideas between U.S. and Afghan professionals on legal topics that reinforce international legal standards among military, legal and law enforcement professionals. One particular topic they discussed in depth was the law of armed conflict, an important subject as Afghan National Defense and Security Forces continue to fight insurgents and terrorist networks in their country.
The Afghan army is working to ensure their soldiers are well trained and abide by the law of armed conflict while they are in combat in order to be internationally recognized as a professional fighting force.
“We are representing the government of Afghanistan,” said Col. Muhibullah Zahir, the ANA Legal School training deputy. “We must abide by the rules of engagement to gain credibility on not only an international level, but also on a national level.”
The ANA Legal School provides rule of law training for all Afghan soldiers during basic training and throughout their careers. These courses are usually part of specialized courses, which include the senior noncommissioned officer course, the young officer’s course and other professional development classes. Additionally, the ANA is starting a new training opportunity for soldiers through mobile training teams. These teams will visit the ANA Corps to provide rule of law training throughout the country, with the first team preparing to depart this month. The teams will augment training already provided by the Corps legal advisers.
In addition to training that soldiers and legal professionals receive on the Afghan side, a variety of international organizations assist the Afghans with legal curriculum both in Afghanistan and abroad. These organizations and countries include the U.S. embassy-sponsored Invitational Visitor Leadership Program; Italy’s International Institute for Humanitarian Law; the International Committee of the Red Cross; and the Defense Institute for International Legal Studies, who sponsored this past week’s training.
Despite the fact that the enemy may not be abiding by the rule of law, Afghan soldiers and commanders said they are still determined to do their jobs the right way.
“[Taliban] conducting attacks creates chaos, disruption and causes problems,” said the ANA Chief of General Staff of the Legal Department. “But, I can guarantee that these types of attacks will never undermine our security forces, the morale of our personnel and staff, or our legal affairs experts who are involved in fighting against corruption and who are fighting against insurgents.”
Even though Afghanistan has a long way to go in the realm of rule of law, particularly in the eyes of the international community, the ANA and Afghan government are aware of the problem and are addressing the concern of fighting corruption.
“Within our judicial system, we personally succeeded in 2013 and 2014 to begin to implement the rule of law on everyone, without favoritism,” said the ANA Legal Department Chief of GS. “Currently, nothing is much higher than rule of law, so we are here to implement that on all individuals (in Afghanistan).”
During the final day of the workshop, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Todd Semonite, commander of Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan, addressed the issue of corruption, encouraging attendees to overcome obstacles they will inevitably face.
“I meet with the (Afghan) president quite often and he continues to remind us that while we have an awful lot of threats that we’re fighting, the most important threat is corruption,” said Semonite.
“While it’s important to be an infantryman - fighting the war on the hill at night - your job of fighting corruption is just as important, if not more important.”
He reminded them that much of the support and equipment for the ANA is provided by international donors. In order to ensure they continue to help build the sustainability of Afghanistan, it is vital to ensure the transparency and accountability of that money.
“I want to congratulate you on the last five days,” said Semonite. “Just by being here, you have shown that you take this very seriously, and you are committed to the values that you all stand for.”
Training such as this helps shows the desire of the international community and of Afghanistan to integrate rule of law into all aspects of training, education, procedures, operational planning and execution, according to Semonite.
“We are very impressed by the team that you have, and we are convinced that the future of Afghanistan is in the right hands,” he Semonite.