Call for papers: Law, Power, and Gender in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan
Organised by Lutforahman Saaed (Brigham Young University) and Torunn Wimpelmann (Chr. Michelsen Institute)
Deadline for abstracts: 15th February 2024
Upon seizing power in August 2021, the Taliban made drastic formal changes to the legal framework and Afghanistan’s justice system. The Taliban suspended the Constitution and all statutory laws, and to date have put no new substantive laws into place. Prosecution offices have likewise been abolished, and specialised courts, such as family courts and courts adjudicating cases of violence against women, have been dismantled.
Given the dearth of codified laws, public information, and oversight, many aspects of the current justice system are unknown to those outside of it. The purpose of this conference is to gather researchers working on evolving legal practices and judicial institutions under the Taliban. Systematic, in-depth research in or on Taliban-ruled Afghanistan is exceedingly challenging. Yet many scholars and human rights organisations have gathered data on the justice sector in Afghanistan or have conducted analysis based on Taliban statements and edicts. By bringing together such recent and ongoing research, the conference aims to generate a fuller picture of the emerging legal landscape in today’s Afghanistan and its implications for political, social, and gender relations there.
Themes of particular interest include, but are not limited to:
1. Legal practices and legal reasoning
The relationship and hierarchies between Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and codified law (qanon) have varied greatly in Afghanistan, although the trend of the last century has largely been towards codification. Taliban rule today and in the 1990s have represented a departure from this trend. With the expectation of some administrative regulations, current Taliban rulers have suspended codified law and appear inclined, whether by default or by design, to adjudicate based on fiqh sources (but including the code-like Ottoman Majallah). Papers exploring what patterns might exist in the Taliban courts’ selection and use of fiqh resources and what this could reveal about their approach to Islamic law would be most welcome.
2. Structures and procedural laws
After the Taliban takeover in August 2021, Afghanistan witnessed a significant transformation also in the structure of its courts and procedural laws. The number of judges in each division has been reduced from three to one. Each court division is designated a mufti, tasked with reviewing verdicts for adherence to fiqh – or, if necessary, issuing a fatwa. The role of the prosecutor has been removed, with judges seemingly conducting some investigations and compiling evidence in criminal cases. This shift marks a departure from the more centralised and state law-based court structures that had been developing in recent decades, signaling a return to more decentralised and Hanafi school doctrine-based rules and procedures. Submissions might focus on any aspect of court structures, court procedure, or the current processes of justice.
3. Citizens’ rights and access to justice under the Taliban
Reports on the rule of law under the Taliban point to fundamental human rights challenges such as unclear laws and procedures, a lack of judicial independence, and the use of torture and arbitrary detention. Little is known about lawyers’ working conditions and their ability to meaningfully represent their clients. While many male lawyers have been able to renew their licenses, it seems that lawyers’ access to courts and their clients varies greatly, and female lawyers have been deprived of their right to work. Many legal cases are also processed by other state actors without any judicial role. The use of corporal punishments, primarily in the form of public flogging, has become widespread, and verdicts for stoning and other forms of executions have also been issued. Abstracts providing a human rights perspective on the legal system – and on citizens’ access to justice more broadly – will be of interest.
4. Gender in Taliban courts
Changes in women’s access to state justice and protection from family abuse were perhaps among the most significant societal developments of the Republic era. The infrastructure and frameworks set up during this period have been completely dismantled and replaced by dramatic increases in direct and indirect controls on women’s mobility and autonomy.
The actual treatment of women in today’s courts and in other, more informal legal processes remains largely undocumented. The Taliban claim to recognise adult women’s right to consent in marriage and their right to inheritance, and they also appear to refer some of the most extreme cases of violence against women, such as some murders, to the courts. At the same time, they have by and large removed women’s legal access to divorce and have put extreme restrictions on women’s ability to approach state courts. Papers focusing on any aspect of gender and the current system of justice would also be of interest.
5. Relations of law and governance
In Afghanistan, as elsewhere, the application of law is implicated in broader formations of power and governance. Scholars have pointed to how rulers such as Amir Abdul Rahman used the state courts to assert power over the country’s ulema or to how a ulema-staffed court system was a central part of the Taliban’s war efforts. The relationship between the central state and so-called informal justice mechanisms has also been the subject of much debate, reflecting a broader argument about ‘the tribe’ or ‘the state’ as the chief source of political legitimacy in Afghan society. In today’s Afghanistan, the Taliban appear both to build its judiciary and state apparatus around the ulema and to systematically rely upon more informal mechanisms for some of their dispensation of justice. We welcome papers exploring the state- society relations emerging out of current legal practices in Afghanistan, as well as on the relationship between law and politics more generally in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Dates: 26-27th August 2024, CMI, Bergen, Norway
Funding: Some funding for travel and accommodation is available.
Full papers are due by 15th of July 2024. We aim to develop an edited volume or special journal issue on law and the courts under the Taliban.