The role of civil society in strengthening rule of law-based responses to terrorism and violent extremism in South Asia

On December 5-6, President of Afghanistan Justice Organization, Shafeek Seddiq, participated and spoke at the to a two-day workshop on the role of civil society in strengthening rule of law-based responses to terrorism and violent extremism in South Asia, hosted by the National University of Singapore at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS). The workshop was part of a project that was designed in consultation with the United Nations and organized by the Global Center on Cooperative Security  and the Institute for Inclusive Security
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in its Convention on Mutual Cooperation on Criminal Matters emphasized a greater need for collaboration among member states on counterterrorism issues, particularly in areas of prevention and sharing of information and expertise.  Further, international actors, such as the United Nations  and Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), stressed the importance of strengthening the rule of law to prevent terrorism and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). In adopting the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in 2006, the UN General Assembly recognized that “the rule of law is essential to all components of the Strategy,” and member states were encouraged to engage with non-governmental organizations and civil society in enhancing efforts to implement the Strategy. Additionally, subsequent reviews of the Strategy have highlighted the critical roles of women and civil society, particularly in CVE efforts and building community resilience. Furthermore, the GCTF has also promoted civil society’s role in enhancing the rule of law to counter violent extremism, for example, through the development of a set of non-binding good practices on community engagement and community-oriented policing, which involves strengthening relationships between communities and law enforcement officials.
Mr. Seddiq presented on the effectiveness of the criminal justice system of Afghanistan in countering terrorism and violent extremism and the challenges the justice system in general face in handling terrorism cases.  Some evidence suggest the ineffective and immature judicial system of Afghanistan may be a driver of violent extremism as the cases of recidivism reported in the media.
Afghanistan’s justice system is not mature.  It still faces challenges to deliver required justice. It is a devastated institution. The devastation not only includes extensive damage to buildings, office furniture, official records, and essential office equipment, but also includes the lack of qualified judges and other justice personnel in the chain.
The establishment of an impartial, transparent and efficient justice system is a prerequisite to entertain terrorism cases and restore the rule of law in the country. Courts must have the capacity to effectively entertain these cases to restore the legitimacy of the formal justice system. Problems of training, resources, corruption and political interference have so far undermined the credibility of the various justice institutions. Tackling the phenomenon of terrorism and adherence to Fair Trial Standards, in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Afghanistan is a party, is a major task in establishing a functional justice chain.
The workshop was part of a series of workshops undertaken by the Global Center and ISAS to further explore the role of civil society in strengthening and supporting rule of law-based efforts to prevent and counter terrorism and violent extremism in South Asia. Participants from Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka spoke and exchanged experiences of the different countries, ideas, challenges and recommendations.
The objective of this workshop was to strengthen regional security cooperation in South Asia, particularly on counterterrorism and CVE, and facilitate a platform for interaction among experts and practitioners of the region.