EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner (file photo) (InterPressNews)
BRUSSELS, February 12, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Foreign ministers from the European Union have approved a new mission to help train Afghan police. EU foreign ministers agreed to send about 150 police officers, plus other experts, to Afghanistan to help train that country's national police force.
The 27 ministers said in a statement today that the mission is aimed at furthering respect for human rights and the rule of law and driving police reform at the "central, regional, and provincial" levels.
EU officials say it could also pave the way for more ambitious EU efforts in Afghanistan -- including assistance revamping key legal institutions.
Before today's meeting, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner described Afghanistan's current legal architecture as inadequate in most respects.
Ferrero-Waldner said ahead of today's meeting that the police mission is a harbinger of bigger things to come. She said the EU will provide 600 million euros ($777 million) over the next four years to help fund Afghanistan's public administration, with a particular focus on the legal system.
"We intend to put a very special focus now on strengthening public administration, and also in particular the reform of the key legal institutions," Ferrero-Waldner said.
Focus On Justice
Ferrero-Waldner said about 40 percent of the funds will be earmarked for reforms in the justice sector.
The EU has contributed roughly 135 million euros to police reform in Afghanistan since 2002. Most of that money has helped pay salaries and train Afghan National Police officers.
EU aid to the police will continue. But Ferrero-Waldner suggested that police reforms are well entrenched, so Brussels wants to more actively support the judiciary and prosecutorial processes.
Ferrero-Waldner said Afghanistan's justice sector is in urgent need of reform.
"All three justice institutions -- that is, the supreme court on the one hand, it's the attorney general's office on the other hand, [and] the Ministry of Justice -- they are absolutely in urgent need of reform," Ferrero-Waldner said. "And I must say -- let me be blunt -- the system is operating with staff who are insufficiently trained or educated -- recruited through a system that is not at all transparent -- and who do not operate under very credible mechanisms for [ensuring] accountability and discipline."
'Key Challenge' Lies Outside Kabul
Ferrero-Waldner said that, in the future, the EU will place experts in key Afghan legal institutions to help draft a blueprint for what she said will be "major reforms." She said the EU wants to improve the quality of the justice system, provide a better recruitment and career structure for judges and public prosecutors, and develop a "code of ethics."
There will be an accompanying effort to ensure that judges and public prosecutors are better paid and to streamline their career structure.
Ferrero-Waldner said the EU believes the "key challenge" in resolving Afghanistan's problems is extending the central government's authority outside Kabul -- that and stamping out the illegal-drugs trade.
But she said EU assistance will be limited to working directly with Kabul and the central government will remain responsible for "spreading out" the rule of law into the provinces.
Ferrero-Waldner said this strategy is already bearing fruit in northern and northeastern Afghanistan. She cited "good success" in eradicating poppy fields in the northeastern province of Nangahar.
Officials in Brussels conceded privately that the security situation southern Afghanistan remains too dangerous to station EU officials there.