Establishing an Independent Bar in Afghanistan

The project of establishing an independent bar in Afghanistan was initiated by ILAC in 2003. Since the start-up, the International Bar Association (IBA) has served as the project’s implementer, with economic support coming from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In 2004, a first draft law to establish the bar was developed by an IBA legal specialist, translated into Dari, approved by the Judicial Reform Commission and transmitted to the Afghan Ministry of Justice.

In November 2005, a conference for Afghan lawyers on the need for an independent bar association in Afghanistan was held in Kabul. Based on the recommendations of this meeting, an IBA Position Paper was drawn up, containing a suggested legislative model suitable for Afghanistan and supported by the consensus of the conference. This paper was transmitted to the Ministry of Justice and major stakeholders.

As a result of the conference and the Position Paper, the Ministry of Justice sought continued IBA assistance to design a conceptual mapping for the profession as well as development of a government policy on the bar association. The IBA legal specialist worked closely with the Minister’s Office and the Italian Justice Project Office to organize stakeholders’ round tables on the bar association to further develop a draft Advocates’ Law. A revised draft Advocates Law was then finalized by the legislative department of the Ministry of Justice, with the assistance of the IBA specialist. In the autumn of 2007 the draft law was passed by the legislative assembly, the Wolesi Jirga, and subsequently signed into law by President Hamid Karzai.

After several years of fruitful cooperation between resident IBA experts, the Afghan Ministry of Justice and civil society, the project of establishing an independent Afghan bar took its most important step on 30 July 2008, with the formal inauguration of the Independent Afghan Bar Association (IABA). Both ILAC’s chair, Mr Paul Hoddinott, and the IBA President, Mr Fernando Pombo, were present at the official inauguration ceremony in Kabul.

The IABA already has some 600 members around Afghanistan, of which 170 are women. Furthermore, it might well be the only bar association in the world with both compulsory pro bono requirements and a quota for women on the leadership and all committees.

The development of an independent bar association in Afghanistan has met with considerable international attention. In his report 6 March 2008 to the UN Security Council, the United Nations Secretary General mentioned the Advocates Law as one of few positive developments in legal reform activities in Afghanistan. The law was also highlighted by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in her Annual Report on Afghanistan to the Human Rights Council on 21 February 2008. And according to the London Times  “the creation of the country’s Bar Association, will, it is hoped, dramatically improve the position of rule of law in the war-torn nation” (18 Sep 2008).