Dienstag, 21. Januar 2014

Court under observation

The trial that I am witnessing this morning is located in Mahmud Raqi, the capital of Kapisa province. The geography limiting the dispersed small city of approximately 40,000 inhabitants is surrounded by karst mountains, a good one and a half hours drive from Kabul. Though a reasonable distance from the capital it may sound, we are deep in the countryside, far away from any tared asphalted road. The car hops along dusty gravel roads. As we drive into the province, Afghan radio stations report on an suicide attack in Kapisa's district of Nijrab. We don't have to go that far for the court trial, but the incident that comes to us as fresh news this very morning shows the fragile state of an area from which ISAF troops have retreated months ago already. French troops in fact were stationed in the area previously on behalf of the security assistance force. They withdrew months ago on order of president Nicolas Sarkozy, then president. The culprit to appear today is a French heritage in a way. Passing in the hands of ISAF and ANA troops as these moved into a zone previously held by insurgents, the security forces emptied the jails and took the man into state custody. Now, he stands in the middle of a justice chamber, accused of murder by a local court that deals with civil and criminal matters. The accused is a bearded man in handcuffs and perhan tambon, the customary local dress. The court deliberations takes place in the office of the judge, not in the court room surprisingly. A narrow place. The judge sits in a corner behind his desk, elevated. The rest in the room sink into plush sofas at the three sides of the room. The prosecutor holds to a stack of files in his hands. The culprit sits in the middle of the room, guarded by a policeman, who tiredly looks to the ground. He has freed the culprit of his handcuffs earlier on. They now dangle from his hip. Tea is served. "We normally don't do this in court," says the judge with an ambiguous smile. What is normal at court in Afghanistan? The judge looks neat. He wears a black vest, is hair accurately combed. Is seems in a mild mood for the day. Just because a foreigner assists the deliberations? A fan rotates from the ceiling. The judge eyes all parties present at regular intervals. The prosecutor is asked to read out loud the charges against the culprit. He is not proficient in reading. His finger follows each of his words on the paper. The indictment is written by hand, with purple thumb prints, taken from alleged witnesses. The accused is said to have killed a relative over a dispute involving personal and professional honor. Money was at stake also, my neighbor whispers. The culprit dares to interrupt with a low voice. He can't follow the deliberations in Dari and asks for an oral translation in Pashto. It is granted to him. Then he gives his version of the facts. The judge shakes his head. The victim was shot in the throat, he corrects the culprit, surely not able to put down a testimony as the accused claims, he says in a firm voice. The prosecuter asks for the man to hang him. From the ohter side of the room an older man interferes, sitting on a brown plush sofa next to me. What were the exact circumstances of the murder, he wants to know? Two of his companions write down with care what is being spoken in the room. The three men call themselves monitors and are working on behalf of IWA (Integrity Watch Afghanistan), an organization that campaigns for transparency at different levels of society. The monitors are independent observers for all courts in the Kapisa districts, they say. Heads of local shuras , headmasters, doctors. "Our presence makes the judge to act with more care" says one of the monitors, not without pride. "Until recently, many people in the district did not dare to go to court." Often the real witnesses would not be heard, claims one of them, or there was no trust in fair procedures. „People here now take their donkey to travel miles to court or with their motorcycle to present their case whereas before they used to be reluctant“, says Ali Mashalafroz, who coordinates the IWA office in Kapisa. "Before the wars“, adds a collegue at his side, „there wouldn't be compulsory defendents either". It is, they murmur, about putting pieces together again. The monitors all have in their hand a questionnaire with 21 categories. It contains questions such as: Has the local police documented the case? Has there been a medical or forensic report? Truth is not to come from one day to the other, the monitors are aware. Their presence, they hope, would render the hearings at courts more transparent. In the absence of independent media or civil society activists, the monitors fill in to observe the course of justice that suffers the caractersitic deficiencies of an Afghan state. Eventually, weeks later, the filled-out questionnaires of the monitors will go to Kabul, where they are evaluated. In funding the monitoring, international donors such as the World Bank, the United Nations Misson, French and international organization hope to push ahead the course of transitional justice and bring some kind of order deep into the Afghan province. As always, this is above all a hope. After the first two hours of delibarations, the trial is postponed. I may get an interview with the judge, I am told. Finally, the answer is negative. Permission has not been granted by the supreme court in Kabul, I am informed. The supreme court in Kabul officially supports the trial monitoring for the Kapisa and Bamiyan provinces. But off the record the institution does not like the justice system to be exposed as a corrupt limb of the Afghan state institutions. We wait over lunchtime for the trial to reach to a sentence. But time is getting late without a decision. We are scheduled to return to Kabul before dark. Back in the capital, a call from Ali Mashalafroz, the Kapisa coordinator, reaches me. The accused has inherited of 18 years behind bars. He has escaped the death penalty. A judgment owed to the transparency of the observers? The 'Communal Trial Monitoring Project', in the years ahead, wants to change the course of justice in more than just two of 36 Afghan provinces, IWA's Yama Torabi, the head of the organization, says. He hopes for more funds in the years to come. But first of all, Afghanistan needs to go through the uncertainties of 2014 – described by many as its most crucial year.

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