ROME (Reuters) - The leaders of the United Nations, NATO and Afghanistan gather in Rome this week for a conference aimed at shoring up Kabul's "law and order" agenda, even as the nation slips deeper into conflict.
Widespread corruption and violent crime in Afghanistan are feeding disillusionment with the government of Western-leaning President Hamid Karzai, nearly seven years since U.S.-led forces removed the Taliban from power.
There is also growing outrage over civilian killings -- a theme off the official agenda, but one which is expected to be raised at least privately after as many as 45 civilians died on Saturday in a U.S.-led air strike.
The July 2-3 "Conference on the Rule of Law in Afghanistan" is meant to map out a strategy -- particularly a financing strategy -- to address the perceived failings of Afghan justice.
Beyond Karzai, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the conference will be attended by senior diplomats from more than 20 nations.
"The era of lawlessness and corruption and unprofessional police and an unreliable justice system must end," the U.N. Special Representative to Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, said in Kabul last month, looking ahead to the conference.
"I am not satisfied with the progress made so far in the last three or five years."
Afghan police are poorly trained and ill equipped, and violent street crimes often go unpunished. Some criminals and drug barons in the world's leading producer of heroin are linked to former warlords who now serve inside the government.
According to lawyers at the International Development Law Organisation (IDLO), day-to-day shortcomings for Afghan justice range from practising lawyers who have never read the country's laws, to judges who jail women without legal reason.
"Many people in Afghanistan feel it is proper to prosecute a woman for running away from home ... They get prosecuted for this and get sent to prison," said Charles Jakosa, who ran an IDLO training programme for prosecutors in Afghanistan.
"There is no provision under Afghan law that would provide for prosecuting someone for running away from home."
Jakosa also said there could be as few as 200 defence lawyers for the entire country, making it practically impossible to guarantee every suspect's right to an attorney.
The conference will involve a series of technical-level meetings on Monday. The plenary session begins on Tuesday with remarks by Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Ban and Karzai.
Additional reporting by David Fox in Kabul