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Rice Launches Campaign to Aid Afghan Legal System

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Thursday launched an effort to mobilize U.S. private-sector support for rebuilding Afghanistan's legal system. Under a new public-private partnership effort, U.S. law firms would among other things get tax benefits for helping their Afghan counterparts. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

U.S. policy-makers have been preoccupied in recent months with trying to re-energize international efforts against the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan.

But Rice says the success of the country's new democracy also depends on the building of a fair and transparent legal system, after years of ruinous governance first by a Soviet-imposed communist government and then by the Taleban.

Inaugurating the State Department's Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan, Rice told an audience including leaders of top U.S. legal firms and law schools that the needs of the Afghan legal system run the gamut from basic supplies to the training of lawyers and judges representative of the country's population.

"Another challenge is to expand public awareness of legal rights, which is especially lacking in rural areas. Increasing the number of women judges is also a key priority. Afghanistan currently has over 1,500 judges nationwide, yet only 60 are women. It is imperative that Afghanistan develop a well-trained, educated and demographically- representative cadre of judges to serve in courts across the country," she said.

The Afghan government was represented at the event by the country's attorney-general, Abdul Jabar Sabit, a American trained lawyer and economist who is credited by U.S. officials with prosecuting hundreds of cases of corruption, bribery and other abuses by Afghan public officials.

Though U.N. agencies estimate that nearly half of Afghanistan's economic output is from the illicit opium trade, Sabit said the government of President Hamid Karzai is working to tackle crime and corruption and deserves international support.

"Our friends outside of Afghanistan believe there is corruption and they should not waste their money to give it to us, the Afghans, to spend on the reconstruction of Afghanistan. I can assure them here and elsewhere that we fight corruption, and we do not have that much corruption as is believed to be there in Afghanistan," he said.

The Afghan attorney general said his government needs help to, among other things, amend legal codes inherited from past governments and revive the institution of defense lawyers, which he said was totally destroyed under communist and Taleban rule.

The United States is already providing significant financial aid for Afghan judicial reform. The new public-private partnership has enlisted two major U.S. law firms and the University of Utah law school to train Afghan personnel, and will be seeking to recruit additional participants in the program.