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Conference Discusses Ways to Strengthen Afghan Justice System

A two-day international conference on the rule of law in Afghanistan opened in Rome Monday to discuss how to strengthen the country's justice system. Among those taking part are Afghan president Hamid Karzai and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from Rome

International experts say the challenges to establish the rule of law in Afghanistan are enormous in a country where the legal system has been destroyed by more than quarter of a century of violence.

Participants are expected to map out a financing strategy to deal with the state of the Afghan justice system. Paul Messe is part of the delegation of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which has been operating legal aid programs in Afghanistan for five years.

He says among the issues discussed at the conference is the vulnerability of the legal sector and how much needs to be done to establish the rule of law in Afghanistan. He says there is still an enormous gap between intent and reality on the ground.

"There's a long way to go to integrate the different legal components. A lot is done by custom law, but that's almost has a life of its own in many areas. There's a lot to be done in the training of judges, on the training of the whole legal sector and on the ability to turn legal intent into actual law enforcement and particularly as we work with the civil sector, civil law," he said.

There is widespread corruption and violent crime in Afghanistan. This has led to many of its citizens becoming increasingly disillusioned with the government of President Hamid Karzai.

The Rome conference will try to provide concrete tools to improve coordination among law-enforcement officials and tackle corruption. Access to justice, prison reform and legal training are among the other subjects to be discussed at the meeting.

Those attending the conference include Afghan President, Karzai, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, as well as senior diplomats from more than 20 nations.

Also attending the conference is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, who said it was "unfortunate" that civilians have been caught up in the NATO-led military operation in Afghanistan. He called war an imperfect science.

"Our people, the military folks," Khalilzad said, "do their best to avoid civilian losses." That's not their goal. But sometimes it happens that weapons go awry. Khalilzad said it is important that civilian losses should be investigated and that lessons be learned from those investigations. The rule of law, he said, is a key pillar for success in Afghanistan.