At Work in INL: Promoting Human Rights and Accountability in Afghanistan

Posted by Karen Hall
July 7, 2010
Children Attending Lessons in a Kabul Prison

About the Author: Karen Hall is a Foreign Affairs Officer and head of the Administration of Justice Team in INL's Office of Afghanistan/Pakistan.

I first visited the Kabul Women's Detention Facility in 2006. A little boy with an open sore on his face stared up at me with huge brown eyes. He was incarcerated with his mother, which is the practice in Afghanistan due to the lack of social services or other custody mechanisms. I remember other women detainees smiling, despite the crumbling building they lived in. The environment was austere, but the mothers and corrections officers were clearly trying to make the best of it: They had formed an ad hoc nursery school, and the few literate women in the group were teaching the children to read. I was visiting the detention facility as part of my assignment with the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). My Afghanistan posting was supposed to be temporary -- two months, which stretched into two years. I couldn't go home yet; we had too much work to do.

Some people in government jokingly call INL the “thugs and drugs” bureau, and I like to tell my parents I work for the “thugs” part. I'm the “Administration of Justice” team leader in INL's Afghanistan/Pakistan office. Before I joined the State Department, I used to work for a K Street law firm and enjoyed a plush office and a higher salary. Though I now find myself in a cubicle in the basement of a State Department annex contending with sometimes overwhelming paperwork, you couldn't convince me to change jobs. INL is on the frontlines of working with our in-country partners in promoting human rights, transparency, and accountability, defending our national security, and securing the constitutional rights of citizens in nascent democracies. My team receives funding from Congress for criminal justice reform, including corrections reform, which is specifically for foreign assistance projects. That means we can go beyond doing assessments and writing reports, and do the operational work to help solve the problems we identify.

I think that in the time that INL has been running these programs, we've learned some valuable lessons about working with local governments to build justice systems. We've learned it isn't enough to train legal practitioners; we must also create the capacity for their organizations to plan, budget, communicate, and delegate responsibility. We've learned that process reform is just as important as legislative reform -- if a criminal case gets stuck in the system and can't swiftly move from police to prosecutor to courts to corrections, then it doesn't matter how elegantly crafted the legal codes are. We've learned that education is paramount: educating the public is an effective way to inspire them to demand good governance and rule of law, and educating attorneys and judges sets up a framework that provides benefits for generations. And through it all, attention to culture is key. Assistance programs that respect Afghan culture produce far better results, especially with regard to sustainability, than those that try to impose foreign values.

The projects we're implementing in Afghanistan right now recognize and incorporate the lessons we've learned. We've hired twice as many Afghan lawyers as Americans, and are proud to work closely with them, recognizing the risks they take to help build their country's future. We help justice institutions put modern personnel policies in place, ensuring that the most qualified candidates are placed in appropriate jobs. We work with police and prosecutors engaged in preventing and punishing domestic violence. We hire American corrections professionals to conduct nationwide training and mentoring of Afghan corrections officers, not just in basic skills but also in specialized skills such as emergency response, leadership, and record-keeping. We're starting public education programs, and have grant agreements with universities and NGOs across the United States to develop more rigorous law school curricula, to give graduate-level training to law professors, to help improve prison conditions, to develop linkages with some aspects of the Afghan tribal justice system, and to build civil society organizations in Afghanistan.

If you were to take a tour of the Kabul Women's Detention Facility today, you wouldn't get the same tour that I did in 2006. Two years ago, international donors funded a new building. INL provided the day-to-day training and mentoring of the Afghan staff at the facility. The new building is airy and well-lit, and the women and children are living in clean and safe conditions. There is a large bright room set aside that serves as a school for the children. The officers are well-trained, the facility is secure, standard operating procedures exist and are followed, and the atmosphere is calm. I love my job.



United States
July 8, 2010

O.C. in the U.S.A. writes:

With just a little money those children could have a wonderful,inspiring classroom. Surely with all of the drug money being made someone could find some money to properly outfit that classroom so those children have fun activities to do. When children are inspired, their whole outlook on their world changes. These children deserve all the happiness in the world even if it is in prison. Where's the art and science table, dramatic play and listening center? This is where you change a nation's mindset. This is where all the money should be invested in the beautiful children of Afghanistan. If you save a child you can heal the world!

Marina C.
District Of Columbia, USA
July 8, 2010

Marina C. in Washington, DC writes:

Well done and inspiring. Thank you!

United States
July 8, 2010

O.C. in the U.S.A. writes:

There are many currriculum ideas on the internet that can be googled so that these children have something to do. You can give them recycled paper to color on. Throw a small ball and have them shout out the answer to a math question, do some circle time songs etc. Training these mothers to be early childhood teachers would allow them to use their skills once they return to their villages. That's the perfect environment to train new teachers. It's just so sparse and the kids look bored. Can the military send over some crayons and markers or something?

July 12, 2010

Michael writes:

Ms. Hall,
Your experience and that of thousands of others in the conflict and post-conflict areas we have been engaged in over the last decade must be captured and conveyed to current and future Foreign and Civil Service Officers training for deployment. The State Department and USAID have long neglected an invaluable tool for institutionalizing our experience and best practices. It is long past time for a lessons-learned division within our foreign policy apparatus for reasons of efficiency and common sense. While the Foreign Service Institute and National Defense University would convey the information, the resident capability should reside within the the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization as an essential adjunct of the Conflict Response Corps. Other locations are possible, such as the Management Bureau to ensure personnel opportunities to transfer the information, the Policy shop to highlight the long-term public policy value of the information, or the Office of the Secretary itself. Your Dip Note is the type of feedback that makes others' jobs easier in the future and our tax dollars more effective. I hope you will pursue, and encourage others to pursue, such a lessons capturing capacity at State and USAID!

New Mexico, USA
August 9, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@Karen Hall cc Dipnote Bloggers,

I think the Iran desk would like to see this, perhaps you could pass this on for their attention? I figure folks will know what to do with it.

News Item;

Seven Baha'i leaders in Iran have each received 20-year prison sentences, according to reports received by the Baha'i International Community, the group said Sunday.

"If this news proves to be accurate, it represents a deeply shocking outcome to the case of these innocent and harmless people," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

Word of the sentences came from an Iranian-based group called the Committee of Human Rights Defenders, according to Diane Ala'i, another Baha'i U.N representative. The Baha'i International Community is working to confirm the reports, she said.

The leaders were accused of espionage, propaganda activities against the Islamic order, and the establishment of an illegal administration, among other allegations, according to the Baha'i International Community. The group denied all charges.

"We understand that (those sentenced) have been informed of this sentence and that their lawyers are in the process of launching an appeal," Dugal said in a statement Sunday.

The Baha'i leaders–two women and five men–have been held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison since they were arrested in 2008. They are considered the nation's top-ranking Baha'is


Source; BBC News

Ed C.
Massachusetts, USA
August 18, 2010

Ed C. in Massachusetts writes:

Hi, I totally respect the work that you are doing. From 1995 to 1998 I was the director of an INL funded program called the Domestic Violence Community Partnership Program to the Former Soviet Union. ( Russia, Ukraine and Georgia)

It was a tremendous opportunity to train police and communities and assist in organizing local tasks forces to combat domestic violence.

I would love to do this type of program again in a Muslim setting. I spent one year in Cairo at the U.S. Embassy and have deep respect for the people of Islamic countries.


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