The making of the first Police-Prosecutor Cooperation Manual: Speaking the same language without being lost in translation
Kabul, 23 February 2012. Rohullah Esmati accompanied the birth of the first joint Police-Prosecutor Cooperation Manual from its inception in December 2009 to a high-level ratification meeting on 7 February 2012. He recalls the two-year long process and reflects on the challenges of defining a common language – for police and prosecutors, Afghans and internationals.
The police officer and lawyer talked about lofty ideas: “Containing an incident is one of the most important tasks of any policeman,” the man in EUPOL uniform said. “House-to-house enquiries might bring you in contact with a suspect, at which stage you need to ensure you comply with the law on suspect interviews,” the lawyer with the British accent added.
The group of Afghan police officers and prosecutors assembled in the Kabul conference room nodded in agreement, but Rohullah Esmati, 31, knew better. “I realised very quickly that everybody was talking at cross purposes,” he explains. He has been working as National Senior Legal Officer in the European Union Police Mission since May 2009, and has experienced many instances of mis-communication between Afghan officials and their international advisers. In December 2009, Esmati joined a group of EUPOL advisers tasked with developing a Finnish-financed programme aiming to improve cooperation between Afghan police officers and prosecutors. At the request of the Afghan authorities, international advisers were to share their cooperation experiences with selected Afghan participants, who in turn were to select the concepts most relevant for Afghanistan and compile them in a best practice training manual.
Esmati quickly realised that the first obstacle to overcome was Afghan---non-Afghan communication. The word ‘containment,’ for example, seems to have no satisfying equivalent in Dari. The dictionary suggests mahdoud kardan or baz dashtan. “But neither of them are sufficient to express the true meaning of the concept,” Rohullah explains. These words mean “to limit” or “to prevent” and when our Afghan counterparts were asked to express what they associated with this term, it became clear that the stories of our international colleague were completely lost on them. “In the end,” he explains, “we settled on the phrase ‘Jalawgeri Waqea Az Intischar,’ which could be translated as meaning ‘Preventing Things from Getting Worse.’ It’s cumbersome, but it’s accurate, and everybody gets what we mean, at least in principle.”
At this stage, the group realised the extent of the challenge they were facing. “We were aiming for nothing less than a paradigm change,” Cornelia Schneider, EUPOL’s Head of Rule of Law Reform, explains. “We sought to introduce novel concepts, and our Afghan colleagues had to create new Dari terminology to express them. What is more, we jointly had to prevent those coming into contact with the new terminology from simply associating it with other concepts they were already familiar with.” So the group decided to create a glossary of agreed terms, and assembled a carefully balanced working group of experts hailing from the Ministry of Interior, the Attorney General’s Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme Court, the
Bar Association, and the respective professional police and prosecutor training institutions.
The next step was getting the Afghan target group to find ways to apply the new work concepts to their day-to-day work. EUPOL commissioned a drawing of firemen and police jointly fighting a fire to illustrate the concept of ‘containment.’
The picture shows a blazing house in the middle of a village, which is clearly lost to the flames. Rohullah Esmati recalls that all working group participants and pilot students immediately associated with the need to fight the house on fire. But the picture goes further, also depicting the police diminishing the risk to the rest of the village by evacuating neighbouring houses and cutting a break to prevent the fire from spreading. “This idea of containing is different from what most Afghans would associate with traditional police tasks of reacting to an incident,” Esmati explains.
From this advanced model, it is yet another step to get participants to understand that the fire image can be used as an illustration
for other police and prosecutor work, such as evacuating a neighbourhood after the crash of a lorry carrying potentially dangerous chemicals. “We use images of straight-forward and day-to-day situations as starting point for explaining much more complex concepts,” Esmati elaborates. “This in itself is a paradigm shift; a new way of teaching that many of my Afghan colleagues, including myself, have not experienced.”
And so the ideas flowed, the Manual grew in size, and the Working Group intensified its efforts to produce. A first draft in July 2010 focused on a murder case study, which covers the various stages of a criminal enquiry and provides a comprehensive overview of the procedural provisions from the moment the police receives information about the commission of the crime until the case is decided in court. At a second phase of the drafting, a comprehensive theory section was added, covering issues such as the importance of evidence, elements of crime, the prosecutor advising the police, vulnerable witnesses and so on.
The complexity and novelty of some of the concepts and ideas employed in the Manual were not readily endorsed by legal experts contributing to the making of the Manual, but ultimately proved convincing. Mohammad Zarif Stanikzai, Head of the Training Unit of the Independent National Legal Training Center (INLTC) at Kabul University and Vice-President of the Afghan Independent Bar Association, was skeptical to begin with. “I had never seen a training tool such as this one,” Mr. Stanikzai – who joined the Manual Review process in November 2011 – told us. “It was colourful, it had pictures, it was interactive. I must admit that it did not look very academic to me. But after reviewing it page by page I can see the great value it adds to the learning process and the academic rigour that has gone into its preparation.” Mr. Stanikzai, representing the INLTC, has fully endorsed the Manual’s structure and content and is seeking ways to incorporate it into the syllabus of the year-long stage course, a mandatory vocational course for new prosecutors run by the INLTC.