The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) has been working since 2002 to strengthen the rule of law in Afghanistan by identifying peaceful means of dispute resolution, developing partnerships between state and community actors, and improving access to justice. USIP’s work includes learning through research and pilot projects, grant-making, and technical support to the Afghan government, Afghan communities, and international partners.   


With a Kabul-based field office, USIP has conducted rule of law-related research and pilot projects across all regions of Afghanistan, with past and current projects and research spanning 18 provinces.

USIP’s current Rule of Law work in Afghanistan is focused on the following thematic areas:

Community Court Observation

The understanding of formal judicial decision-making and courtroom procedures among the Afghanistan population is limited. One reason is a lack of public trials, and citizen observation of those trials. The Afghan constitution mandates the right of public trials in Afghan courts, but the lack of transparency in practice facilitates both poor performance and corruption, while making it difficult to identify specific problems that need to be resolved.

Community court observation (CCO) aims to promote greater transparency, accountability, and improved performance by formal justice actors and institutions. Various local efforts at the provincial and/or district level utilize different innovative approaches to enable public observation of court proceedings. The CCO projects and trainings are currently being implemented in 55 primary and appellate courts at provincial centers and districts in 14 provinces.

As a result, there has been notable improvement in the performance of the judiciary and the courts holding public trials. The percentage of trials held in court rooms—as opposed to judge’s office-- has increased from 29% in October 2016 to 38% in June 2018. This project also facilitates community judiciary meetings to give citizens a forum to discuss public concern and satisfaction with the formal justice sector.

Between July 2017 and July 2018, a total of 44 community-judiciary meetings were held in which 469 community representatives, including 88 women participated. Additionally, between October 2016 and July 2018, in 378 community forums the court observers shared the key findings from their observations with 3,476 community members that included 1,232 females. Judges and observers in each of the target courts meet on monthly basis where the observers provide verbal and written feedback based on their observation.

Land Dispute Resolution

Land disputes are one of the most important drivers of conflict in Afghanistan. Disputes over land and land grabbing have risen in the last decade, with increasingly few options to sustainably resolve them. If left unresolved, disagreements over land ownership can quickly escalate from a civil dispute to acute acts of violence and criminality and can feed inter-generational conflict.

USIP has sought to identify more sustainable ways of resolving land disputes within community-based dispute resolution by strengthening traditional recording procedures and encouraging linkages with formal titling processes. In 2013, USIP began partnering with land management authorities in the Afghan government to develop and test administrative reforms that might increase land registration and improve land management, but also allowing room for customary dispute resolution or community input to help establish title and resolve ownership disputes. USIP began working with ARAZI (the Afghan Independent Land Management Authority) in 2015 to develop a land registration process using community-based dispute resolution, based on USIP’s analytical and programmatic work in Traditional Dispute Resolution over the past years, with a focus on an area where the informal and formal sectors can be brought closer together. The project aims to increase ARAZI’s capacity to develop a land registration process based on community-based dispute resolution and increase ARAZI’s capacity to facilitate land dispute resolution.

The ability of the state to register ownership of land that has previously been contested, but since resolved through traditional mechanisms, will help to prevent these conflicts from being reopened. The current legal framework, which predates the onset of violent conflict, does not allow land registration based on community dispute resolution. 

Women’s Access to Justice

In the wake of and amidst violent conflict, ensuring women’s access to justice and protection of their rights is a central component to a stable transition and building a lasting peace.  Yet despite tremendous gains in women’s rights since the fall of the Taliban in 2002, Afghan women still face enormous obstacles in asserting and defending their rights and interests.

USIP projects explore ways for legal aid and justice practitioners to expand outreach to women and help unpack the barriers. For the past one-year USIP has been partnering with Medica, who aim to hold the Afghan government to breaches in prosecutorial and police duties in cases of violence against women. The project provides legal advice to increase legal awareness to women and girls, represents survivors of violence in legal proceedings and mediation, assist girls in conflict with the law, provide in-patient and out-patient psychosocial counselling (many of whom are attempted suicide victims), empower communities to raise women's awareness of their rights in law and provide peer-to-peer help and support to manage and cope with trauma, and improve coordination of GBV cases, and monitor and hold the State accountable for violations of clients’ fundamental human rights.

Constitutional Analysis and Civil Society Advocacy

Promoting public discourse of constitutional issues has the potential to reinforce and encourage a deeper and more mature culture of rule of law in Afghanistan – a culture in which the fundamental principles of checks and balances, transfer and use of power, accountability for public decision-making and protection of basic rights are determined according to mutually agreed upon and enshrined principles of law.

USIP supports the expansion of a body of scholarship by Afghan scholars on constitutional issues, identified by Afghan scholars and policymakers as pertinent in the years to come, considering the possibility of a constitutional amendment in accordance with the terms of the national unity government agreement and/or a potential peace process. This work aims to increase constitutional knowledge amongst civil society actors to lay the foundation for increased civil society advocacy for constitutionalism.

Legislative Monitoring

Law reform in Afghanistan has been complicated by a patchwork of overlapping and sometimes contradictory laws promulgated during the country’s turbulent history. To help address this, USIP launched legislative monitoring and capacity building program to improve civil society engagement in the penal code consolidation and other ongoing law reform efforts. The core aims of the program focus on:

  • addressing gaps in civil society understanding of the legislative reform process
  • developing platforms for civil society feedback and input into legislative developments
  • promoting forward-looking civil society advocacy for law reforms through capacity building

Professionalization of AGO’s Anti-Corruption and Administrative Staff  

At the request of the Attorney General’s Office USIP has recently begun a project to support the AGO in professionalization of its military anti-corruption unit and administrative staff. The project will also support AGO in facilitating communication with the public through convening citizen forums.

Past projects focused on numerous thematic areas, including engaging civil society in transitional justice, supporting other grantees and partners in their documentation efforts, and trainings in traditional dispute resolution.

Latest Publications

Toward Disability-Inclusive Peacebuilding

Toward Disability-Inclusive Peacebuilding

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

By: Anthony Navone

When it comes to conflict and peace, people with disabilities are often overlooked — with potentially devastating consequences. People with disabilities are disproportionately affected by violent conflict, where basic humanitarian protections can unintentionally exclude them if not made accessible. When it comes to peacebuilding, people with disabilities have been routinely blocked from the table — and even when they are included, they’re often seen only as beneficiaries, not as full partners. The resulting dynamic has often left people with disabilities struggling to find proper resources during times of conflict and consistently shut out from shaping peace in their communities.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Human Rights

Biden’s Implicit Warning to Israelis and Palestinians

Biden’s Implicit Warning to Israelis and Palestinians

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

By: Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen

As a new government takes power in Israel, questions emerge about its collective ability and will to move the needle in a constructive direction on the ongoing occupation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The narrow coalition, spanning a broad political and ideological spectrum, consists of avowed opponents of a Palestinian state — Prime Minister Naftali Bennett among them — alongside staunch advocates for the two-state solution. The governing coalition also assumes its role in a divided society on several fronts following 12 consecutive years with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

Countering China on the Continent: A Look at African Views

Countering China on the Continent: A Look at African Views

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

By: Thomas P. Sheehy; Dr. Joseph Asunka

As U.S. policy has increasingly focused on countering China’s influence worldwide, Africa also has come under this lens. While the administration and Congress consider approaches and policy options, it is important to ask what Africans think of U.S. efforts to counter China’s growing role on their continent. While U.S. foreign policy should serve American interests, it will be most successful if cognizant and, when possible, reflective of the interests and aspirations of Africans.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

Can the World Go Green Without Destabilizing Oil-Pumping Nations?

Can the World Go Green Without Destabilizing Oil-Pumping Nations?

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

By: Benjamin J. Spatz; Alex de Waal; Aditya Sarkar; Tegan Blaine

Amid the dizzying acceleration of headlines and debate about the vital global transition to renewable energy, new research shows how that change could destabilize dozens of fragile states that depend heavily on oil exports. The new study underscores that governments and international institutions will need to guard against risks that the shift away from carbon-heavy fuels will inadvertently upset political balances and potentially ignite violent conflicts in a swath of nations from Venezuela to Nigeria to Iraq and beyond. Above all, the research suggests, the world must avoid an unplanned “traumatic decarbonization” of these economies.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Economics & Environment; Fragility & Resilience

What You Need to Know About Iran’s Election and New President

What You Need to Know About Iran’s Election and New President

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

By: Garrett Nada

Hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi won Iran's presidential election amid a historically low turnout on June 18. He will be inaugurated in early August and have significant influence over domestic policy and foreign affairs, although Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the ultimate say. Raisi’s election comes as the Biden administration is working with other major powers to bring the United States and Iran into full compliance to the 2015 nuclear deal, which the president-elect has expressed interest in reviving to take advantage of its economic benefits. USIP’s Garrett Nada looks at the implications of Raisi’s election victory and what it could mean for the Islamic Republic’s ties to the outside world.  

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

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