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.

Related Publications

Bourgeois Jihad: Why Young, Middle-Class Afghans Join the Islamic State

Bourgeois Jihad: Why Young, Middle-Class Afghans Join the Islamic State

Monday, June 1, 2020

By: Borhan Osman

Ever since the Islamic State in Khorasan Province emerged in Afghanistan in 2015, policymakers and security forces have regarded it as an “imported” group that can be defeated militarily. This approach, however, fails to take into account the long-standing and complex historical and sociological factors that make the group’s ideology appealing to young, urban Afghan men and women. Based on interviews with current and former members of ISKP, this report documents the push and pull factors prompting a steady stream of young Afghans to join and support ISKP.

Type: Peaceworks

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Is the Afghan Peace Process Back on Track?

Is the Afghan Peace Process Back on Track?

Thursday, May 28, 2020

By: Scott Smith

A three-day cease-fire between the Taliban and Afghan government over Eid al-Fitr expired on Tuesday. This was only the second such cessation of hostilities in the nearly two-decade war. And just two weeks ago, President Ashraf Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, agreed to share power after a monthslong dispute over the 2019 presidential election. These developments have injected renewed hope that a political solution, negotiated among Afghans, is still possible. USIP’s Scott Smith looks it all means for the peace process, when we can expect the vital intra-Afghan negotiations to begin, and what, if any, impact COVID-19 has had on peace.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

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Rival Afghan Leaders Agree to Share Power—Now Comes the Hard Part

Rival Afghan Leaders Agree to Share Power—Now Comes the Hard Part

Thursday, May 21, 2020

By: Scott Worden; Johnny Walsh

Last weekend, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal to end a months-long dispute over the 2019 presidential election. The deal comes amid a spate of high-profile violence, including a recent attack on a Kabul maternity ward by suspected ISIS perpetrators. Meanwhile, the Afghan peace process has stalled since the U.S.-Taliban deal signed at the end of February. The power-sharing agreement could address one of the key challenges to getting that process back on track. USIP’s Scott Worden and Johnny Walsh look at what the agreement entails and what it means for the peace process.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

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Scott Worden on the Afghan Power-Sharing Deal

Scott Worden on the Afghan Power-Sharing Deal

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

By: Scott Worden

A political deal to resolve the disputed 2019 presidential election was finally reached over the weekend. USIP’s Scott Worden says the agreement “is quite significant” because it will give the Afghan side “more political coherence to negotiate with the Taliban and, if implemented, it will show the Taliban they can’t divide Afghans.”

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