The Way Back Home
Homayune Ghaussi works to bring law back to Afghanistan
Published in 2018 Michigan Super Lawyers magazine on September 7, 2018
The top of Homayune Ghaussi’s desk is piled with the usual: files, family photos, a paperweight or two. But nestled safely away in a drawer sits a less conventional item: a small glass bottle filled with dirt. It was scooped from a stretch of earth nearly 7,000 miles away in Afghanistan—soil that Ghaussi’s feet haven’t touched for almost four decades.
The Afghan native left his home country in 1979, around age 7, when his father took up work with UNESCO in Sudan. The year before, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan overthrew the government in a bloody coup. By the time his father’s work assignment ended two years later, the Soviet Union had invaded and were trading blows in a brutal struggle for political power. Millions of Afghans were fleeing to neighboring countries.
Ghaussi’s father, fearing for his family’s safety, took them far from Kabul—all the way to Troy, Michigan.
Ghaussi quickly became rooted in the state. He got an undergraduate and a law degree from Wayne State University, and now he’s a partner at Warner Norcross + Judd, where he works on supply chain litigation and commercial contract negotiation. But he’s never forgotten Afghanistan. As Ghaussi shaped his career in America, turmoil has continued to ravage his home country.
“I’ve always wanted to visit,” he says. “I just haven’t had an opportunity. Now it’s just not safe enough to go.”
He dreams of a day when Afghanistan is stable enough to return to and he can visit the house he grew up in. “What drew me to the practice of law is my belief in a strong legal system being a necessity for society to thrive,” he says. “I love being a part of the legal system here in America and I would love to see a strong system take hold in Afghanistan to allow that society a path to normalcy.”
In the meantime, he’s doing what he can from here. Five years ago, he became involved with Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan, an organization seeking to help establish the rule of law in the country. When the program started in 2007, the State Department noted that a new constitution helped to establish a system of government, but “judges and lawyers have minimal training and often base their work on their personal understanding of Islamic law and tribal codes without taking into account relevant Afghan laws.”
Now, a nonprofit partner organization dubbed the Friends of the Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan helps bring Afghan lawyers and legal scholars to the U.S. to get their LL.M. After a year of study, they return to Afghanistan and work to improve its legal system. Ghaussi was thrilled with their work. He started attending events and met the group’s board members. Eventually, he was asked to join the board himself.
“I have some pretty good memories of Afghanistan, having seen it before the turmoil as a working society,” he says. He decided to get involved after “meeting these kids who had survived the Taliban for years—seeing how hopeful they were, how they wanted to do what they could to return the rule of law to Afghanistan.
“I think the organization has had a great impact,” he continues. “The alumni are engaged in various legal sectors in Afghanistan and can use their experience to influence other Afghans and policy in general.”
As a board member, Ghaussi helps decide who to bring into the program and helps to support and mentor them when they arrive. Once a year, he and other board members take the students to Washington, D.C.; in the past, they’ve toured the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress, and met with NGOs that could help them with their work in Afghanistan. Graduates go on to work in government and become lawyers or judges—bringing Afghanistan one step closer to stability, and Ghaussi closer to being able to walk through the streets of Kabul again.
“It’s part of my roots,” he says. “It’s where I came from, what makes me who I am.”