Interview: Mir Nasseruddin Zeewari

Author’s note: The views expressed in this interview are solely those of Mr. Zeewari and do not reflect the official positions of the Judiciary or Government of Afghanistan.
We would like to express our gratitude to Said Mortaza Zeewari for facilitating this interview and to Reza Raeesi for translating and transcribing it into English.

Mir Nasseruddin Zeewari 4O.F.: Your Honour, it is a privilege and a pleasure to welcome you as the guest for our first official interview here at Freedom Observatory. As a transparent, inclusive, and non-partisan forum created by young leaders, the goal of our project is to probe the most critical political and international issues.

As the President of the Court of Appeals for Kabul Province, you play a key role in the justice system of the capital region of Afghanistan, a country which has been the focal point of international attention since 2001. Can you give us an overview of your academic and professional background, and how you came to occupy this distinguished position?

M.N.Z.: My name is Mir Nasseruddin Kalim Zeewari and I’m a judge. In the 1960’s I graduated from the University of Kabul, completing my studies in Law. I was one of nine people in the faculty with the best academic results that were selected to be trained as judges. After finishing the training in Kabul, I was sworn in as a judge under the command of Mohammad Zahir Shah, the King at the time. Of course as time passed, I gained various promotions and moved up the ladder. First I became the head of the Court of Traffic then the head of the Family Disputes Court and finally the head of the Research and Investigation in the Supreme Court of Afghanistan.

After immigrating to Canada, I continued my studies. I completed a degree in Law and Judicial Studies in France and then completed three certificates of Political Science, Journalism and Public Administration in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. After that, I went back to Afghanistan in the early 2000s and due to my qualifications I started to work in the Supreme Court, once again. I became the head of Commercial Appeals in Public Law. After two years in that role, I became the President of the Court of Appeals for Kabul Province.

Since then I have been active in that capacity. I enjoy my responsibilities greatly and to my knowledge, the people and the establishment are both satisfied with my rulings and role in the court system. And I hope to continue to uphold the law and protect justice to the best of my abilities.

O.F.: Between January 2010 and July 2011, a research officer at the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) by the name of Zuhal Nesari conducted a study about the mediation of cases in urban Afghanistan. Ms. Nesari has also worked as a judge at the Kabul Court of Appeals. In her study, she observed that “a significant number of legal disputes are being resolved through a combination of formal and informal justice mechanisms, contrary to the assumption that resorting to traditional dispute resolution bodies occurs only in rural areas where legal awareness and access to courts is low.” Could you provide some context on the combined role of formal and informal justice (such as jirga, maraca, shura) mechanisms in Kabul Province?

M.N.Z.: Yes, in Afghanistan the Judiciary is an independent body set up by Article 116 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The Supreme Court is on the top of the Judiciary, followed by the State Courts and so on. In Afghanistan as well as with other legal systems, we have civil and criminal codes and corresponding procedural codes set up by the Constitution, and justice is set to be achieved under the umbrella of Islamic law.

However, we must be mindful that Afghanistan is a country with an array of customs and traditions. These also play a fundamental role in upholding justice. For instance, in some cases smaller conflicts are not brought in front of courts but solved by the people, traditionally by consulting the public and especially elder members of society.

The provinces of Afghanistan. Kabul is marked 1. Credit:

The provinces of Afghanistan. Kabul is marked 1. Credit:

In the eastern parts of Afghanistan, we have also distinct customs such as “tiga” or “nanavat” that play an important role in protecting justice. The regional councils are also part of this informal system of laws. Of course as we move forward, we hope that these traditional apparatuses follow the rules of Islam and the Constitution. In any way judicial matters are almost exclusive to the courts and fortunately the current team of Honourable Justices that form the Supreme Court are dedicated and able to ensure this situation. It is also notable that our judges are qualified and able. I can say with confidence that the Judiciary is here to serve the people of Afghanistan.

O.F.: According to various reports, a number of candidates who plan to contest the 2014 Presidential Elections in Afghanistan have been implicated in serious human rights abuses, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Many of these candidates have served in capacities as military and militia commanders and continue to command the support of powerful, armed factions. In your experience as a senior judge, how can the Afghan justice system ensure that candidates are accountable for past grievances?

M.N.Z.: Well to answer your question we have to look at the facts as well as appearances. What is important here are the documents brought to us as judges to rule on different issues. There are witness accounts, corroborative evidence, official documents, and so on. When looking at whether these grievances are met, if we ask the winning party to a concluded case, they would be the most satisfied. But how do we find out if our judicial system is able in this case?

When we rule on a case in this level, the appellate court is the Supreme Court and parties unsatisfied with the ruling refer our decisions to the Supreme Court. Once the ruling is found to be just and within the rule of law, that ruling has passed the test. In any case, the only way to satisfy both parties to a conflict is to solve the issue through inviting them to mediation. Also when we as judges, rule on a case with a clear heart and clear conscience and without favour or under any influence, this ensures us as well as the public in the health of our judicial system.

Furthermore, holding elections in Afghanistan is an essential step. I believe that we can expect a bright future for the government and the people of Afghanistan if those that are chosen by the majority share our people’s love for our country and if they are motivated solely to help build Afghanistan and allow only the most qualified to work for them, and they respect Allah, our people and our people’s justice. This is the only way forward for us to alleviate the economic and social issues that our people face. I hope that the future leadership of Afghanistan can create a consolidated bureaucracy that aims only to serve.

Delegates vote on the new Constitution at the 2003 Loya Jirga (Constitutional Grand Assembly). Credit: SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

Delegates vote on the new Constitution at the 2003 Loya Jirga (Constitutional Grand Assembly). Credit: SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

O.F.: Under the Constitution of Afghanistan approved by consensus during the 2003 loya jirga, citizens are “guaranteed the right to life and liberty, privacy, peaceful assembly, freedom from torture, and the right to freedom of expression and speech.” In addition, there has been a move to incorporate existing international legal norms into the Afghan judicial system. How successful has the implementation of international legal norms been in Afghanistan and has it helped to facilitate an improvement of human rights and civil liberties?

M.N.Z.: Yes of course. In relation to this I have to mention that today, Afghanistan is a part of the international society. As today’s technology and science brings different parts of the world closer, the fortunes of different people are increasingly interconnected. Afghanistan has had a difficult past four decades with inter-state and intra-state war and other issues and the developments that have happened have been mostly forced on Afghanistan. We have been in an isolated state from the international society. The fundamentals of democracy became weak and almost entirely eroded.

Fortunately, with the formation of the current government in the past twelve years, international society has succeeded in applying many positive concepts in Afghanistan such as improvements to civil society and civil rights. This has affected the legal system beneficially as well. For instance, the issue of rape and sexual assault has been placed on the government’s agenda and positive developments have taken place. This is due to civil society’s role in witnessing and critiquing the government’s actions. This is a huge success in Afghanistan.

Also at the level of the Supreme Court, the fight against corruption and other social ills while having the international norms and laws in mind are part of our successful developments. Other than the legal implications, scientific results of these developments in the judicial system are also positive. Forensic science has been quickly evolving and this is a great achievement for criminal law and the law enforcement. The education system in Afghanistan is another case where the need for an upheaval was being felt after years of hardship.

Fortunately, with this new connection to international society, positive steps are being taken in these matters. I hope that the future governments use these developments to further encourage the improvement of democracy and civil society and other aspects where growth can happen.

O.F.: In November 2010, the International Crisis Group (ICG) released an executive summary detailing the state of disrepair affecting the Afghan judicial system. Among the many problems detailed in this document are the chronic insecurity, lack of proper training, and low salaries – problems which the ICG says have driven many judges and prosecutors from their jobs. Recognizing these challenges, what reasons have motivated you to continue serving in your position in the Afghan judiciary and what steps will be required to strengthen your nation’s justice system going forward?

M.N.Z.: That’s a profound question. Of course personally, when I emigrated from Afghanistan, studying in Université du Québec à Montréal, I always hoped that I could one day go back and work in Afghanistan and apply what I had learnt. In this spirit, while working here I have always looked to educate colleagues from the standpoint of the fundamentals of democracy, but also to enable attorneys to safeguard their clients’ constitutional rights.

The principles I have applied from my education have always been in play in my interactions with the colleagues, lawyers and patrons in the court. At the end of the day, my motivation has been to serve and to protect justice. I hope I have answered your question. One thing that I have to mention is that I hope the governments that will take on the helm of governance in future will elect the most qualified individuals to the bench so that the judges can continue to play an active role in upholding the rule of law. And also, I hope that the training judges receive will reflect the democratic values we hope to envision in our dear Afghanistan’s future.

O.F.: Mr. Zeewari, it has been an honour to have you as our guest here at Freedom Observatory. Your answers have provided excellent insight into the Afghan justice system and about your nation in general. Your first-hand observations have undoubtedly given our readers an introspective overview of Afghanistan which highlights the opportunities and prospects for the country that are often overlooked by mainstream media in the West.

Otto Faludi (6 Posts)

Otto Faludi is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Freedom Observatory. He earned an Honours B.A. in Political Science and a Master of Public and International Affairs from York University’s Glendon College in Toronto where his research focused on business ethics, foreign policy, international law, and public affairs. Since 2012, Otto has been a key participant of the Canadian Business Ethics Research Network (CBERN), an academic centre at York University. In 2014, he completed an internship with the Political and Public Affairs Section at the Embassy of Canada in Budapest and was nominated to represent Canada at the Young Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia. Otto also served as the Vice President of the Foreign Affairs Council of Glendon from 2010-2015, a role in which he recruited and coached three award-winning teams of students at the International Model NATO simulation in Washington D.C. Otto is an accredited Canadian journalist and he attended the 2014 NATO Summit in Wales. He is fluent in English and Hungarian, proficient in French, and has a working knowledge of German and Spanish.


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