UN Secretary-General today urged Afghanistan’s partners to join with the fledgling democracy as it seeks to lay the foundations of law and order after decades of conflict, declaring that the nation’s “long night of injustice is nearing its end.”
“Now we must herald the rule of law, and the era of the Afghan citizen,” Mr. Ban stated in his address to an international conference on justice and rule of law in Afghanistan taking place in Rome.
Recalling his surprise visit to Afghanistan last Friday, during which he met with the country’s top officials, Mr. Ban said he was “heartened and moved” by their commitment and courage, but also shared their profound concern over the challenges still confronting the war-torn nation.
Decades of conflict had left a devastating mark, Mr. Ban noted. “Institutions were destroyed, authority was divorced from legitimacy, and rule of law flowed from little more than the barrel of a gun.”
Mr. Ban hoped the conference would result in the establishment of an Afghan-led monitoring and evaluation system for the justice sector.
“Much rests on the success of this conference,” he added, noting that the ability of the nascent State to define laws covering domestic, criminal, land, tax, contract and commercial issues will determine the shape of Afghan society for decades to come. “These codes will be the source of justice in a land that has for too long suffered from its absence.”
Key to heralding a new era in the Afghan justice system, he said, are aligning the efforts of Afghanistan’s partners with those of the country’s own vision and national traditions. Also crucial were credible Afghan institutions for fostering the rule of law and political will on the part of the nation’s leaders.
Mr. Ban also hailed the work of one of Afghanistan’s youngest national institutions, the Independent Human Rights Commission, which had rapidly become the nation’s “voice of conscience.”
“Its documentation of human rights abuses ensures that past crimes will not be forgotten. Its promotion of human rights norms brings us ever closer to a day when the law is Afghanistan’s one and only authority,” he stated.
The Commission has also documented instances of civilian casualties resulting from the operation of international forces. Mr. Ban stressed that in countering the anti-Government insurgency that has been plaguing the country for some time, Afghan and international forces must act strictly in accordance with international humanitarian law.
“However difficult this may prove against a shadowy and unscrupulous adversary, we simply cannot hide from the reality that civilian casualties, no matter how accidental, strengthen our enemies and undermine our efforts.”
Mr. Ban highlighted the need to “do better by Afghanistan’s women,” who suffer disproportionately from a failing justice system, declaring that “justice denied to Afghanistan’s women is justice denied to all Afghans.”
In recent weeks, Afghanistan has witnessed a string of attacks which constitute some of the worst violence since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, including shootings outside a girls’ school and the murder of prominent female Afghan journalists.
“Those who kill or debase women simply because they dare speak their mind, or demand their rights, must find no quarter in a just and free Afghanistan.”
Noting that Afghanistan faces real challenges with no immediate solutions, Mr. Ban urged patience as the country emerges from the “shadows of despair” following decades of conflict and travels down the difficult road to peace and prosperity.
The high toll on civilians was among the topics discussed by Mr. Ban in his meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai today in the margins of the conference, his spokesperson told reporters in New York.
The issue was also raised during the Secretary-General’s meetings with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
During those meetings, Mr. Ban also discussed the importance of reinforcing international partnership to rebuild Afghanistan’s institutions, as well as the need for transparency, accountability and political will on the part of the Afghan Government to uproot corruption.
The Secretary-General is expected to hold a joint press conference today in Rome with President Karzai and Foreign Minister D’Alema. He is expected in Turin tomorrow to visit the United Nations Staff College, before returning to Geneva, according to his spokesperson.