In response to the September 11 attacks, the United States and its allies entered Afghanistan in 2001 to remove the Taliban from power. The US-led “War on Terror” intervention prompted the United Nations and other international allies to engage in a broad range of state-building and development activities in Afghanistan. There were a number of important initial successes, including the adoption of a new Constitution, elections, and roll-out of primary school programs. Quickly though, cracks were showing in the new democratic institutions, the Afghan security apparatus, and the reach of development programs.
Twenty years later, in the summer of 2021, the US withdrew its troops from Afghanistan. Within weeks, the Taliban had seized power and the Afghan government—backed since its establishment by the international community—had fallen. Criticism against the military operations led by the US and NATO and the state-building exercises sponsored by the UN and the international community has been harsh, but merited. The collapse of the Afghan government represents a failure of international interventions military as well as civilian.
However, a closer look at developments in Afghanistan over the past two decades shows a more complex picture of conflicting international, national, and local agendas, and similarly reveals a morphing conflict that has provided opportunities for a broad spectrum of actors of differing convictions and interests. How can we understand the oft-criticized Western-led interventions in this context, and what will it mean for the future of such efforts?
The 2022 edition of the Joakim Dungel Lectures in International Justice takes its starting point in the developments over the past two decades in Afghanistan, looking at how the intervention unfolded and why it failed. We ask:
- How is the War on Terror changing international law and interventions?
- Drawing on lessons from the past decades of state-building and military interventions, what are the main challenges for international law and justice?
The Joakim Dungel Lectures in International Justice aim to analyze and discuss various challenges through an international law lens. The Lectures were instituted in 2012 to honour the life and work of Joakim Dungel, an alumnus of Gothenburg University who was killed while working as a human rights officer for the UN in Afghanistan in 2011. To continue the work he was not able to, the seminars have tried to understand complex and controversial issues. Previous lectures have dealt with issues such as sexual violence in conflict, weapons of mass destruction, the global arms trade, and contextualizing terrorism. There are not clear-cut solutions to the topics at hand, but the Lectures aim to encourage the discussion as a means towards progress. 2022 will be the eleventh edition.
Session I: Afghanistan and beyond: Situating two decades of “War on Terror” interventions
09:00-09.10 Introduction and Welcome (Introduction: Emilia Dungel, Chair: Niels Krabbe)
09:10-09:25 Setting the Stage: Afghanistan, the “War on Terror” and International Law (Sari Kouvo)
09:25-09:45 Discussing the Transition: The Taliban takeover and International Law (Ehsan Qaane)
09:45-10:05 Afghanistan and beyond: What may change for international human rights law? (Richard Bennett)
10:05-10:20 Questions and Answers
Session II: Building the Afghan Nation: International, national, and local perspectives
10:35-10:40 Introduction (Chair: Sari Kouvo)
10:40-11:00 State-Building from a Local Perspective: Lessons from Development Practice in Afghanistan (Najiba Sanjar)
11:00-11:20 Afghanistan, International Politics and Law: Lessons from Swedish Diplomacy and Development (Torbjörn Pettersson)
11:20-11:35 Questions and Answers
Discussion: New Interventions and New Rules?
11:35-12:10 Facilitated discussion (Chair, Emilia Dungel)
12:10-12:20 Concluding Comments
The Joakim Dungel Lectures in International Justice aim to analyze and discuss various challenges through an international law lens. The Lectures were instituted in 2012 to honour the life and work of Joakim Dungel, an alumnus of Gothenburg University who was killed while working as a human rights officer for the UN in Afghanistan in 2011. To continue the work he was not able to, the seminars have tried to understand complex and controversial issues. Previous lectures have dealt with issues such as sexual violence in conflict, weapons of mass destruction, the global arms trade, and contextualizing terrorism. There are not clear-cut solutions to the topics at hand, but the Lectures aim to encourage the discussion as a means towards progress. 2021 will be the tenth edition.
Richard Bennett, independent consultant, has several decades of experience of working on human rights in countries experiencing conflict and in international organisations. Most recently, he has served as consultant to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and from 2004-2007 and 2018-19 he was the Chief Human Rights Officer for the UN mission in Afghanistan. Richard has also served as the Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, headed human rights units in UN missions or participated in UN panels of experts in South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Nepal and East Timor. Richard currently resides in the Philippines and he is originally from New Zealand.
Sari Kouvo, seconded national expert, European External Action Service. Sari is currently on leave of absence from her position as Associate Professor at the Department of Law at Gothenburg University. Sari’s previous engagement include Co-Director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, Head of Program of the International Centre for Transitional Justice and Adviser to the EU Special Representative for Afghanistan. Sari has held visiting fellowships or lectured at, inter alia, NATO Defense College, Birkbeck Law School, Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Australian National University and Åbo Academy University. She has published extensively on Afghanistan, international law, gender, human rights and EU crisis management.
Niels Krabbe, researcher, Department of Law at Gothenburg University. Niels teaches in several courses on international law. His research focuses on regime interaction in international law, especially connected to marine governance. He has previously worked as a legal adviser on treaty negotiations in the law of the sea and international trade law at the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management and the National Board of Trade.
Ehsan Qaane, researcher, Afghanistan Analysts Network. Ehsan has been a core contributor to the Afghanistan Analysts Network for several years, also serving a the Network’s country director. His other engagements include fellow at the International Criminal Court and member and adviser to several human rights networks in Afghanistan, including the Civil Society and Human Rights Network and the Transitional Justice Coordination Group. Ehsan has published extensively on the conflict in Afghanistan, the International Criminal Court’s engagement in Afghanistan and human rights and international humanitarian law.
Najiba Sanjar, consultant, Urgent Action Fund for Women Human Right Asia & Pacific, former Head of Taluqan Regional Management office at Swedish Committee for Afghanistan. Najiba has several decades of experience from management and development work, including from the Swedish Committee. She is also an independent human right activist, defended human rights as part of her job and at volunteer capacity.
Torbjörn Pettersson, Director of the Department for Human Resources and Communications at the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida). He was Ambassador of Sweden to Ethiopia and the African Union in Addis Abeba 2017-2020 and Ambassador of Sweden to Afghanistan in Kabul 2010-12. Pettersson was Secretary General of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan 2008-2010. A development economist and political scientist by training (Lund and Uppsala Universities) Pettersson has spent his professional life in politics, diplomacy and development cooperation. In 2005-2008 he served as Minister Counsellor and Head of Development Cooperation at the Embassy of Sweden in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. In 2001-2004 he held the position as Deputy Director General and Head of the Department for Finance and Corporate Development at the Swedish International Development Authority (Sida). From 1995 to 2001 Pettersson was Secretary General of Swedish Liberal Party and 1993-1994 Political Advisor at the Prime Minister’s Office in Sweden.
Emilia Dungel, chairperson, Association in Memory of Joakim Dungel. Emilia works on conventional arms control, currently as communications coordinator and lead editor at the Small Arms Survey in Geneva. Previous engagements include UNDP in Belgrade and UNRWA in Jerusalem. She holds an MA in Conflict, Security and Development from the Department of War Studies at King’s College London.