15 January 2021
The men wait in the small, confined space that they call a courtroom. They speak amongst themselves in their mother tongue and sneak glances at the foreign defendant, who watches them through narrowed eyes with his hands and feet handcuffed in place. Wearing a turban on his head and a black, green, and red robe, the judge nonchalantly reviews the case documents with absolute certainty that it would be solved by lunch. The faint sound of heels clacking echoes from the hallway, drawing everyone’s attention, and they stare at the door with bated breath.
The clacking stops and their hearts pound, until the door is swung open, revealing the one they feared the most. Wearing a pencil skirt and blazer, she is the go-to lawyer in Kabul, Afghanistan–while also happening to be the only foreign litigator in the country.
Ever since 2008, Kimberley Chongyon Motley, originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, resides in Afghanistan for about six months per year. She is the CEO and founder of Motley Legal, a law firm that offers legal services for a variety of different cases. Although she occasionally represents Western embassies and big foreign companies, such as The New York Times, human rights cases are her specialty.
According to The New York Times themselves in 2016, Motley is “perhaps the first independent lawyer to represent a victim of domestic violence in an Afghan court.”
Motley has defended several people in Afghanistan that would not have gotten the justice that they deserved otherwise, and she does this by simply using the laws that were made to protect Afghan citizens, rather than harm them.
“Sometimes she seems to know the Afghan law better than the Afghans themselves,” said Markus Potzel, the German ambassador in Kabul.
However, working in the male-dominated Afghan courts and prison systems is no easy feat. She is in constant danger as a foreigner, and thus a target for the Taliban. Throughout her years there, she has undergone many perilous situations. She has been threatened. She has been temporarily detained. She has had a real grenade thrown into her office, yet she is still determined to help those in need in such lawless places.
Prior to going to Afghanistan, a country she couldn’t even pinpoint on the map beforehand as she said in The New York Times, she worked as a public defender in Milwaukee for about five years and was crowned Mrs. Wisconsin in 2004. She originally only went to Afghanistan as part of a nine-month Justice Department program to train Afghan lawyers. Only after seeing the utter injustice that plagued the country did she decide to work there permanently.
Many people still question her decision to practice Afghan law specifically and how she manages to succeed at it.
“It’s not about [how] I practice Afghan law, I just practice law. You know, wherever I’m at, you just have to understand how to get to the human that you’re dealing with,” Motley explained in her documentary called Motley’s Law.
Although she may not be able to continue her work in Afghanistan in the future due to the increasing dangers, Motley has made significant history in one of the most dangerous countries in the world right now. Her work should be widely praised and recognized as she fights for global justice with every clack of her heels.