Reserve U.S. Army Judge Advocate Capt. Jeffrey C. Blumenauer, deployed as a rule of Law attorney with the 3rd Infantry Division, Regional Command South.
He is assigned to Combined Team Uruzgan.
At home, in Tampa, Fla., he runs his own private law practice, but in Afghanistan he is responsible for planning, coordinating and ensuring the execution of rule of law in Uruzgan.
The legal system of Afghanistan has developed over centuries and consists of Islamic, statutory and customary rules and since the fall of the Taliban, the legal system continues to evolve with the development of the Afghan state.
Capt. Blumenauer says rule of law is a dynamic concept within itself, but is basically an appropriate and legitimate system of justice.
“I execute rule of law initiatives to facilitate the adequate functioning of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s (GIRoA) customary and formal justice systems within the province to help the people of Uruzgan have adequate recourse to appropriate dispute resolution alternatives and proper access to the courts,” he said. “Though not perfect, the justice system in Uruzgan is functioning, and a measure of formal justice is accessible to most of the population.
“Criminals and insurgents are being arrested, based on evidence collected at the scene of a crime, and being taken to trial with convictions being obtained. There is still a lot of work to do, but the independent capability of the Afghan formal justice system in Uruzgan is promising.”
After the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan’s judicial system was fragmented, with conflicts between the core legal organizations and a destroyed infrastructure.
The absence of adequate court or ministry facilities, basic office furniture and minimal supplies made substantive progress difficult.
The Taliban had even burned all the law books.
During his deployment, Capt. Blumenauer said he focused on the coordination of training the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in Uruzgan, ensuring the Afghans increased their capabilities to collect evidence, which include taking witness statements, lifting fingerprints and preserving evidence on the battlefield or at a crime scene.
“Evidence is fundamentally important to prosecution because it is the proof of a crime, and the greatest gains in the Uruzgan rule of law sphere have been made in the preservation and exploitation of evidence,” he said. “Everyone thinks after watching U.S. television shows like ‘CSI’ that the justice organizations have an infinite capability with technology, but in reality it is not the case – in Afghanistan or the United States.
“Technology is not always needed to secure a conviction because something as simple as a witness statement or a fingerprint can be just as effective, and weigh just as much in court, as a DNA analysis. Sound proficiency in collecting and exploiting any available evidence, and ensuring its admissibility at trial, sets a solid foundation for increasing criminal justice capabilities and convictions.”
The United States Institute of Peace estimates 80 percent of all criminal and civil disputes in Afghanistan are resolved outside the formal legal system through community forums.
Disputants often prefer to have cases resolved by community dispute resolution mechanisms which are viewed by most Afghans as more accessible, less costly, more legitimate and less corrupt than government courts.
Many Afghans find the latter more in tune with cultural values promoting consensus and reconciliation, rather than punitive retribution alone.
Jail sentences issued in the criminal justice system may be reduced if a civil compensation settlement is successfully brokered by informal mechanisms.
But the rule of law organizations in Uruzgan, including the police, prosecutors, judges and courts have been working together to independently and successfully improve and increase the utilization of the GIRoA system of justice.
As a result, the amount of cases heard by the Uruzgan courts has increased dramatically over the course of the last year.
Capt. Blumenauer said he was impressed with the progress which has been made in Uruzgan as it is a successful example of what the policing and prosecutorial efforts should be.
“My deployment has been a fantastic experience and as a reservist I have been able to utilize the skills I have learnt from practicing law in civilian society and apply them to the administration of justice in Afghanistan,” he said.