News | April 17, 2012

ROLFSOs: One Individual Augmentation, Five Different Experiences

By Lt. Jennifer Myers, Khost Province, Afghanistan

We wrap-up our five-part Rule of Law Field Support Officer series with a message from the Commander, Rule of Law Field Support Mission Afghanistan, Rear Adm. James W. Crawford III, followed by our final post by Lt. Jennifer Myers.

Rear Adm. James W. Crawford III, Commander, Rule of Law Field Force-Afghanistan & NATO Rule of Law Field Support Mission

Currently, there are 35 Rule of Law Field Support Officers (ROLFSOs) operating in Afghanistan’s provinces and districts in close contact with Afghan justice actors outside of secure coalition operating bases. Lt. Jennifer Myers works in Khost Province, one of the eight provincial centers of focused rule of law activity in Afghanistan.  Rule of law actors, including the NATO Rule of Law Field Support Mission (NROLFSM)/Rule of Law Field Force-Afghanistan (ROLFF-A), operate across the country of Afghanistan; however, the most significant activity takes place in these eight provinces. 

Khost City, the Capital of the Province, is a main population center of Afghanistan. Along with the provinces of Balkh, Herat, Kandahar, and Nangarhar, Khost has been characterized as one of the five “Provincial Justice Centers” by the U.S. State Department and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. In addition to these five locations, robust rule of law operations are in effect in Helmand and Kunduz provinces, and at the Justice Center in Parwan Province.   These provincial efforts support rule of law efforts and activities in key associated districts, a level at which few actors outside of NROLFSM/ROLFF-A work.

Myers, along with other service judge advocates and line/staff officers assigned as ROLFSOs cover 47 districts across Afghanistan designated as priorities by Afghanistan government.  By focusing their efforts at the district level, Myers and the other ROLFSOs help build the human capacity and functionality of the rule of law at the lowest levels of governance, and facilitate the connection to the provincial and national levels. Myers and NROLFSM/ROLFF-A ROLFSOs make a major contribution to one of the most critical efforts facing the coalition in the next two years. As coalition forces move toward transition ROLFSOs like Myers will continue to build the abilities, capabilities, and capacity of the Afghanistan justice sector, establishing a lasting effect on the Rule of Law for years to come.

Lt. Jennifer Myers, Khost Province, Afghanistan

 Surrounded by Pakistan on three sides, Khost Province is one of the most conservative regions in Afghanistan.  Khost City, the provincial capital, serves the people of the districts through representatives at district centers, extending the reach of the Afghan government.  These district centers offer formal justice solutions, but also accommodate informal dispute resolutions based on traditional or tribal law.  The very basic unit of government is held at the village or tribal level, where village elders and tribal law determine right and wrong. As a Rule of Law Field Support Officer (ROLFSO), with Rule of Law Field Force- Afghanistan (ROLFF-A) in Khost, I have had the unique opportunity of working with both formal and traditional justice officials and with officials at both the district and provincial levels in Khost Province since arriving here in October 2011. The traditional tribal system of justice evolved over thousands of years and is accepted by the people.  It is an intriguing mix of sharia law, tradition and Pashtunwali, the cultural customs of the Pashtun people which inhabit the Southern and Eastern Afghanistan, as well as Western Pakistan.  Tribal elders investigate conflicts, make and enforce decisions, and impose a kind of bail to enforce their decisions. When conflict occurs between tribes, the traditional system is insufficient.  This point is where the Afghanistan government can have the biggest impact and the point at which I, as an attorney, can offer the most assistance.  In the past, it is also where the Taliban gained power by performing a policing function and providing swift albeit brutal justice. The formal justice system in Afghanistan, and specifically in Khost Province, needs significant development.  Khost Province does not have public trials and there is no defense bar.  As a ROLFSO, it is my goal to bolster Afghanistan government by building capacity in the justice sector and connecting officials to the people.  At the provincial level, I have been involved in providing training at the provincial level and numerous infrastructure projects in the justice sector.  I hope to see a public trial at the provincial level before I leave Afghanistan. With the assistance of my talented interpreter, I am also working with justice sector officials in three districts in Western Khost Province: Nadir Shah Kot, Shamal and Mandozai.  My focus in these areas is to work for better coordination between the prosecutors (in the districts that have them) and the investigators.  In addition, I am working with the district officials to get them to travel out into the more remote villages to educate the public about their government.

As a female judge advocate in Khost, I was initially concerned about my ability to work in an environment in which women have so few de facto rights and are often treated very brutally.  Fortunately, I have found the Afghan culture to be extremely generous and hospitable.  More than that, most of the male officials I have met have been excited to work with a female “saranwjal,” or prosecutor. I have repeatedly been invited to dine with men at both the provincial and district centers and have joined them, sitting cross-legged on the floor, eating with my hands while wearing a headscarf.  We discuss issues in their districts, issues of their country and the future.  Some of these men have told me they are proud to tell their wives they shared a meal with a female “saranwjal.”  

In this culture, men do not normally talk to women outside of their families, and they almost never discuss their wives, so I am truly honored to have this privilege. At the provincial level, I am also working with three female council members and the female Minister for Women’s Affairs on a public education campaign about the constitutional equality of women and new laws regarding violence against women. In addition, the Minister and I discuss court cases involving women as either the defendant or the victim of a crime. 

Unfortunately, my interpreter and I have not been able to speak with any women outside of the Minister’s office, because he is a male.  In the villages, women are not allowed out of the house in the presence of men outside of their families, and as a result, they are nowhere to be seen while American Forces are present. My deployment to Afghanistan has been challenging so far, but it has also been the experience of a lifetime.  The people are great and the countryside is beautiful, with amazing mountains and fertile farmland.  It is a truly amazing to work with people who are dedicated to building their nation.  It is just as rewarding to work with American service members and coalition forces who are equally as dedicated.