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American Lawyer Goes To Afghanistan to Reform Their System from Within
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Kimberley Motley visited Afghanistan in 2008 as part of the US government’s rule-of-law support program and decided, finally, to stay on. What she discovered was that law was not developed and evenly applied in Afghanistan; what she decided was working within the system was the best way to make a difference.

She started out defending a girl imprisoned for “adultery” who was in fact raped and impregnated in 2010, and who was given the choices of 12 years in prison or to marry the rapist. Motley requested a presidential pardon, and after gaining 6,000 Afghan signatures in three days and citing Sharia law and Afghan law, was able to gain the girl’s pardon in December 2011 by President Karzai, and was released to a shelter.

  
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Her purpose in Afghanistan is to fight for human rights, to find victims willing to go public and “to create test cases of how things can be done,” as Christian Science Monitor reported.

Along this line, she helped draft a brief for the landmark 2009 appeal of an Afghan student who was sentenced to death for downloading an article on women’s rights.

She had spent five years with Wisconsin’s Public Defender’s Office before shipping off to Afghanistan. Once there, she spent two years in her own private legal services taking on foreign clients before finally familiarizing herself with the language and practice of Afghan law and feeling confident enough to take on Afghan clients.

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Said Heather Barr, a researcher from Human Rights Watch, Afghan law is not that well integrated.

“You see this in the poor quality of judicial decisions, in the fact that there really isn’t any tradition of case laws, of precedent. So it’s a very, very weak system, and it’s a system where rule of law is really compromised. And this is one of the threats to stability here. There’s this feeling that if somebody violates your rights, if somebody comes to your house and steals from you or kills you, the government isn’t necessarily able or ready to protect you.”



Barr says that even lawyers and judges “cannot read and write well,” often enough, “let alone understand” Afghan law.

Motley is interested in contributed to some accountability and consistency in the system. In this, she as launched some sentencing guidelines drawn from Afghan law, collaborated with the Italian Cooperation, and which the supreme Court has “gotten on board” with, as she says, sentencing guidelines that they will try on juvenile cases to train judges.

She says such changes and “whether or not it’s sustainable is really up to the Afghan people – it’s always been up to whether or not they really want it.”

“Sometimes international attention is needed” said Mary Akrami, who was responsible for opening Kabul’s first women’s shelter. “But sometimes it is also very risky, given the reactions we’ve seen from conservatives.”



 

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