Asia-Pacific, Headlines, Human Rights

AFGHANISTAN: Two Justice Systems for Poor and Rich

KABUL, Jul 28 2009 (IPS) - Three weeks ago, Afghan President Hamid Karzai pardoned five international narcotics traffickers after the Supreme Court found the men guilty and handed down a sentence of 12 to 15 years in prison.

One of the pardoned traffickers is the nephew of Hajji Din Mohammed, chief of Karzai’s re-election campaign. Presidential elections in Afghanistan are due on Aug. 20.

Both presidential spokesman Homayoon Hamidzadeh and Wahid Omar, spokesman for Karzai’s presidential campaign, have recently said that Karzai released the men due to requests from provincial elders.

One legal rights expert, who did not want to be named in this report, said that clause 18, Article 64 of the Afghan Constitution gives the president power to pardon criminals, but within strict guidelines delineated by the law.

“This means that the president must act on the basis of legal principle,” said the expert, not the whims of other power brokers.

The executive branch has created two forms of the law for Afghans.

Powerful people who commit crimes often go unpunished. But if the average Afghan were to violate some part of the Afghan constitution, they would be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Sovereignty of the law is a keystone feature of democratic societies, but experts say that such freestanding legal codes have never existed here. Afghanistan has appropriate laws in most cases, but due to lack of equal enforcement, those laws have been weakened.

Like many members of the democratic global community, Afghanistan’s political structure has – in principle, at least – recognised the sovereignty of the law. But again, the problem is fair and equal implementation and enforcement of that law.

Abdul Hamid Faizi is an assistant advocate at the court in Kabul. He tells a story heard often in the Afghan halls of justice.

“In one case” Faizi says, “security officials arrested a man suspected of narcotics trafficking and the judge sentenced him to five years in prison. The primary court judgment was approved by a high court but,” continues the lawyer, “the accused men presented evidence that they were only doing the bidding of much more powerful traffickers, and offered to help the prosecutor bring charges against their bosses. The court refused to hear the evidence, because the top drug lords were able to pull strings and use well-placed connections in high Afghan government.”

Faizi points out that if the average Afghan gets arrested with only a few grammes of drugs “he will be arrested. Yet more than a thousand hectares of Afghan farmlands are used to cultivate opium and thousands of tonnes of drugs are sold on the black market and no-one does a thing about it.”

Meanwhile, those who make and sell these illegal drugs get rich. With the money comes power and as a result, Afghan officials do not have the means to confront them.

Richard Holbrook, U.S. Special Envoy Afghanistan and Pakistan, has called the coalition effort to eradicate opium, “the worst programme ever” and describes it as “a failure.” Holbrook also points out that eradication initiatives have only helped the Taliban by making enemies of local farmers.

He seeks to change the way that the international community fights the narcotics trade in Afghanistan, by encouraging farmers to grow alternative crops and giving them the resources and know-how to do so. Hopefully, this change will have a positive impact on the corruption surrounding the narcotics trade in Afghanistan.

(*This is the first of a three-part investigative series on corruption in Afghanistan by Killid Weekly. IPS and Killid Media, an independent Afghan group, have been partners since 2004.)

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