The Mobile Phone Jirga: Supporting Rule of Law in Afghanistan with ODR

My friend Colin Rule’s put up this presentation on the use of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) using mobiles in Afghanistan around which he and I had several rounds of email discussion. I have championed the use of mobiles in ODR for years, and it’s good to see initiatives such as this use infrastructure already present on the ground rather than rely on the introduction of PC’s and associated infrastructure to make ODR work.

In several rounds of interesting discussions over email with Colin as well as Lin Wells in the development of this proposal, I flagged the following points related to ODR and competing legal systems in the country, and the use of mobile technology to facilitate dispute resolution at the community level.

  • Can we talk about the Rules of Law in Afghanistan? I think the problems we face would be that much easier if Law was, as it is in the UK, a jurisprudence based not on competing ethno-religious interpretations of Islamic scripture. In Afghanistan, you have justice systems that condone stoning as a form of punishment, and such abominations as this, signed by the good Mr. Karzai himself.
  • And how will the project deal with tensions between competing Islamic justice systems such as the Hanafi code or and the ultra-conservative Salafist code?” I see the central challenge of m-jirgas as one that is able to locate dispute resolution within these competing interpretations, without necessarily prefacing what we (of a more liberal mindset) see as progressive? It’s actually easier said than done.
  • Given the abysmal literacy in the country, I really don’t think the publication of the first Dari and Pashto Legal Glossary makes the slightest impact on the ground. How about recording these definitions to a system where the caller can get to definition, or peruse this glossary, by using her / his voice through a telephone (allowing for on-demand access of this information even by illiterate citizens)? Could this be a simple idea (the software platforms actually exist) that furthers ODR?
  • My understanding is that there are competing Islamic justice systems such as the Hanafi code and the ultra-conservative Salafist code. Again, does m-jirga negotiate differences between these schools, does it facilitate dispute resolution within these schools or does it help introduce a new justice system? To avoid the pitfalls of mission creep, and worse, the perception of something m-jirga is not, I strongly suggest we need to be very clear in how we frame our idea, approaches and innovation.
  • Technically, the IVR system will need to have a way in which recorded messages can be rewound and fast forwarded on demand, which is not an existing feature of many IVR platforms.

3 comments on “The Mobile Phone Jirga: Supporting Rule of Law in Afghanistan with ODR

  1. josh goldstein
    November 23, 2009 at 8:11 pm #

    this is fascinating stuff! I blogged about this project here:
    http://inanafricanminute.blogspot.com/2009/11/mobile-phones-and-customary-law-in.html

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Peace Building in the Digital Era: 9th Forum on New Technologies of Information & Communication applied to Conflict « ICT for Peacebuilding (ICT4Peace) - February 10, 2010

    […] The Mobile Phone Jirga: Supporting Rule of Law in Afghanistan with ODR […]

  2. Machine translation for peacebuilding and conflict transformation? « ICT for Peacebuilding (ICT4Peace) - March 9, 2010

    […] Will next generation online dispute resolution systems avail themselves of machine translation backends to augment cross cultural dispute resolution? Can for example such translation engines help in cutting edge ODR ideas such as the m-jirga in Afghanistan? […]

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