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Reforming justice: Cracking down on the pinnacle of Afghanistan’s corruption

currucption1aThe Attorney General’s office sits in a labyrinth of gardens and trees—an unassuming compound for the heart of Afghanistan’s anti-corruption efforts. Through the cracked window of the waiting room, roses grow up through parched, cracked soil. The red, green and black Afghan flag blows quietly in the hot summer breeze. “Sorry for keeping you waiting,” says Farid Hamidi, Afghanistan’s newly appointed Attorney General, entering in a flurry of attendants and ringing cell phones. He’s just come from one of Kabul’s many emergency hospitals, where he was visiting colleagues injured the day before in an explosion.

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In office for less than two months, Hamidi has introduced sweeping changes that redefine the role of the justice sector in Afghanistan. For decades Afghanistan’s justice sector has embodied the corruption and nepotism it is tasked to tackle. “The government has always used the Attorney General’s office to suppress political dissidents rather than to protect citizens’ rights,” says Hamidi. “The major obstacle to implementing justice and enforcing rule of law is this politicization of the justice sector. I want to change this, to transform the Attorney General’s office from an entity that is used to silence dissidents to an institution that stands for people and their rights. My mandate—my responsibility—is to turn the Attorney General’s office into a center to fight against crime, and become the bastion for protection of human rights and citizens’ dignity.” Today, more than 1,700 prosecutors  and 2,400 judges increasingly exemplify this justice they are tasked to deliver.

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The Attorney General has played a central role in the extensive judicial reforms that have been carried out under the National Unity Government. “I want to turn the Attorney General into an efficient institution where only merit, piety, professionalism and loyalty to the law are supreme,” Hamidi says.

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Under the National Unity Government, more than 600  judges have been replaced, including all 34  provincial chief judges. Corruption divisions have been established in the Supreme Court and Attorney General, with 300 prosecutors working full time on anti-corruption efforts. Jail repairs and newly built medical clinics have aimed to give resources to the country’s strained prison system.  Sixty governmental judiciary staff, including six judges, were arrested in 2015. 14 prosecutors were arrested  and 40 directors of the Attorney General office were replaced within Hamidi’s first weeks of taking office.

In addition to anti-corruption efforts, the judicial sector has made significant progress on the advancement of women under the National Unity Government. A Violence Against Women prosecution office of the Attorney General has investigated 9,500 cases, prosecuting more than 4,500 of these cases since it was established in 2009.  A gender division of the Supreme Court tried 519  cases of Violence Against Women in 2015, leading to 693  convictions of perpetrators. Since taking office, Hamidi has tripled the number of women in the Attorney General office and appointed a female deputy Attorney General.  “It is still very low, but I am determined to have at least 20 percent women representation in the Attorney General office by next year,” Hamidi says.

The government established the Judiciary Center, which aims to foster close coordination between the judiciary and law enforcement entities and also prosecute high-ranking government authorities accused of corruption. This marks the establishment of the first authoritative body whose activities will be supervised by the president. President Ghani has also been chairing coordination meetings between various branches of the judiciary sector to promote efficiency and transparency in the affairs of the judiciary sector.

The judiciary has invested in the future of its human capital through trainings: 316  students study to become judges at the Judicial Training Center, with 20 percent of students female. The courts have provided 755  judges with specialty trainings, and more than 1,239  employees have participated in professional development trainings. In an effort to institutionalize merit-based job postings across all areas of Afghanistan’s judicial sector, the arms of the judicial sector are working together to develop a new HR strategy, which will establish clear policies and a transparent mechanism for future recruitments and administrations. The Supreme Court and Attorney General have implemented a standardized job placement recruitment examination that aims to award jobs solely on merit—eliminating political favoritism, nepotism and association with powerful circles.  “In the past, merit has been the last element in the recruitment process. The loyalty of staff was more for their patrons than the organization,” Hamidi says. “I am putting an end to it. We are working vigorously to replace incompetent cadres with new ones.” Within the span of three weeks, 1,200 candidates sat for the Attorney General’s exam.

“After the first recruitment examination I sat on this couch and greeted an endless stream of the Members of Parliament and officials who flooded my office, demanding that I hire their candidates,” Hamidi says, smiling. “I thanked each of them for advocating their constituency, but told them very clearly that the process will be based on the performances of candidates on the exam. If they do well then I will hire them. Otherwise, there is no way I will allow anyone without proper qualification to get a position in the Attorney General’s office.”

In an institution that has been mired in opacity for decades, Hamidi is striving to bring transparency. He holds open office hours each Mondays, in which anyone is welcome to meet him and voice concerns, and regularly meets with the media and business community. “They used to be harassed and threatened by the Attorney General,” Hamidi says. “The idea is to show them that we are determined to protect their rights and will not allow further exploitation in the name of the law.”

While Hamidi’s hardline approach to reform has been popular among the public, it has been less so with those who have previously benefited from the office’s nepotism and political favoritism. “Every day starts with the news that I am a top target,” Hamidi says, smiling. “At the end of every day, I am hopeful. I am optimistic for fighting corruption. There is the opportunity to bring a voice to the voiceless, and the hope that I could implement justice in Afghanistan.”