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Conference Begins On Afghan Judicial Reform

President Karzai (left) and UN chief Ban will attend the meeting (file photo) (epa) July 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The rule of law in Afghanistan will be the topic of an international conference opening today in Rome.

The aim of the Rome conference "The Rule Of Law In Afghanistan" is to develop a coordinated strategy to reform Afghanistan's justice system.

The two-day meeting is being organized by the Italian and Afghan governments and is co-chaired by the United Nations.

Judiciary Key To Stability

More than two decades of war and conflict have left the Afghan state and key pillars of it, such as the judiciary, in ruins.

And in the six years that have passed since the fall of the Taliban, internationally backed efforts to reform the sector have dragged and the judiciary is reportedly still overburdened, underfunded, and rife with corruption.

The issue of reforming the justice system has been largely ignored while the international community has focused its efforts on reestablishing peace and security and developing the economy.

But some observers believe that good governance and the rule of law could, in fact, facilitate security and bring stability to the country.

UN spokesman Adrian Edwards has been quoted by news agencies as saying that the Rome conference will "create a momentum, bringing the justice-reform sector back into the agenda."

Access to justice, prison reform, and legal training are the other subjects to be discussed at the meeting.

Concrete Improvements

The conference will also try to provide concrete tools to improve coordination among law-enforcement officials and tackle corruption.

Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmed Baheen told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that other issues, such as providing sufficient training for judges and equipment to train law-enforcement forces, are also important.

"[Another] thing is the issue of laws," Baheen said. "Many of the laws are from the past and new laws need to be written and adopted; a number of laws have been adopted by the government, but they need to the adopted by parliament. The [other] issue is the work capacity of Afghanistan's courts. Even though about 700 judges have so far received training, that is not enough."

Baheen added that creating and renovating structures such as courthouses is also important.

Experts believe the challenges to reviving Afghanistan's judicial system are enormous.

Geralyn Busnardo, an official with the Rome-based International Development Law Organization, which has helped rebuild the Afghan judiciary, told AP that there needs to be donor commitment.

She added that a plan is needed that talks about "where we're going to be in five years."

The Rome conference gathers delegations from 25 countries -- including regional players such as Pakistan and Iran -- along with foreign ministers from European countries, EU officials, and delegations from the United States and the World Bank.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner announced in
Rome today that the European Union is readying some $270 million to
help Afghanistan strengthen the rule of law and reform its justice

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema are to address the conference on July 3.

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