LawFuel – Legal Newswire – The establishment of Afghanistan’s first ever bar association, the Independent Afghan Bar Association (IABA), came to fruition on Wednesday, 30 July 2008 at 1800hrs (Kabul time) at a General Assembly in Kabul attended by more than 400 leaders and lawyers representing all parts of Afghanistan. This was achieved after five years of concerted effort by national and international stakeholders lead by the International Bar Association (IBA) and with the considerable support of the International Legal Assistance Consortium and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The new bar association in Afghanistan will act as a necessary counterpoint to the government and the courts in the delivery of justice and the rule of law in the country. It is anticipated that the number of trained lawyers will continue to rise significantly, having already doubled in the past 12 months, and the scope of their work will expand as a direct result of the establishment of the IABA.
The by-laws for the association, governing ethics, discipline, admission requirements and continuing legal education, were passed at the General Assembly, and have been translated into both Pashto and Dari, the two main languages of Afghanistan. The by-laws include a compulsory requirement for each member to undertake at least three criminal cases per year on a pro-bono basis. There is also a quota for minimum representation by women lawyers in the Executive Committee, including the requirement that at least one of the two Vice Presidents be a woman. The focus is now on finalising a code of conduct for the profession.
Fernando Pombo, IBA President, said, ‘The establishment of the first ever Afghan bar association is a wonderful historic event. The project of establishing the Independent Afghan Bar Association was ambitious in its scope. The tremendous effort invested by all sides to realise this project is a prime example of what can be achieved when a collaborative approach to a situation is taken. All the stakeholders have great expectations for this new organisation. It has taken the work and dedication of a full-time IBA legal specialist on the ground in Afghanistan to achieve this outcome. I congratulate everyone involved.’ He added, ‘It is vitally important that the global legal profession support and encourage the world’s newest bar association and to this end I am looking forward to introducing the president and executive director to the global legal profession at the IBA’s annual conference later this year in Buenos Aires in October.’
Dr Phillip Tahmindjis, IBAHRI Deputy Director, who has overseen the project for the past four years, said, ‘At the initial stages of creating the bar association it was necessary to explain fully to the Afghan legal community the concept of a bar association and the merits of having lawyers organised in one. We achieved this through the consistent endeavours of conducting seminars and making public announcement broadcasts. It was also fundamentally important that the local legal community took ownership of the draft legislation, based on Islamic jurisdictions, required to bring into existence the Independent Afghan Bar Association. It was extremely important that the hearts and minds of those involved were invested in the process and that it was not perceived as being dictated by external players. We can be very grateful to the Swedish Foreign Ministry who have funded the process from the start.’
The final stage of the process to establish the IABA took place over four consecutive days at the Intercontinental Hotel Ballroom in Kabul in front of a General Assembly of more than 400 people. To enable 400 lawyers from both Kabul and the provinces to remain in the capital for the duration of the event, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime provided a grant. Many travelled across difficult parts of the country at considerable personal risk to be there. The meeting took place in the presence of: the Second Vice President of Afghanistan Ustad Mohd Karim Khalili; the Afghan Minister for Justice Mohammad Sarwar Danish; the two Deputy Ministers of Justice Dr Qaasem Hashimzai and Adalat Khah; the Chief Justice of Afghanistan Abdul Salam Azimi; and other including the heads of the Afghan civil service. Attending from the IBA were Fernando Pombo, IBA President; Dr Phillip Tahmindjis and Alex Wilks, IBA Legal Specialist for Afghanistan.
The first ever procedure to elect lawyers to the 15 positions of the executive council of the IABA was thoroughly transparent and democratic, and was monitored by a committee of independent international and national experts. The 400 gathered lawyers each cast their votes by placing an ‘x’ on a ballot sheet and then placing the piece of paper into a sealed ballot box in full view of the General Assembly. Once all votes had been cast, the seals of the ballot boxes were broken, again in full view of those gathered. Then officials lifted the cast ballots from the box one by one and called out the name of the candidate who had been voted for. The slips of paper were then placed into piles on the table according to candidate name. Some positions required run-off elections because the initial vote had been too close. Votes were still being countered at 0300hrs on the morning of Wednesday, 30 July. Eventually, the voting concluded, and the 400 lawyers gathered had decided on who would constitute the executive council, and had voted to accept the by-laws which would govern the IABA.
Alex Wilks said, ‘It is extremely satisfying that all the hard work and preparation has culminated in the establishment of such an important organisation for Afghanistan as a whole. That the draft legislation required to bring the Independent Afghan Bar Association into existence was passed by both the lower and upper houses of parliament, the Loya Jirga and Mascherano Jirga respectively, one of only seven laws to be passed in 2007, is significant. It demonstrated that Afghan legislators considered the IABA a priority in the context of the development of Afghanistan.’
The final approval of the legislation was given by President Karzai in December 2007. The legislation was then gazetted to bring it into force, leading to the General Assembly to elect the first executive council.
The IBA will continue to support the fledgling bar by providing assistance with setting up the physical infrastructure, ie, finding premises and equipping it with computers and furniture.