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Homepage > Publication Type > Media Releases > Bosnia's Stalled Police Reform: No Progress No EU

Bosnia's Stalled Police Reform: No Progress No EU

Sarajevo/Brussels  |   6 Sep 2005

The international strategy for Bosnia will derail unless the international community quickly confronts the key obstacles to police reform: the main Bosnian Serb political party and the Belgrade government.

Bosnia's Stalled Police Reform: No Progress, No EU,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the frozen effort at police restructuring and its implications for Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Office of the High Representative (OHR) has been pushing police reform for the entire country to satisfy criteria established by the European Commission as preconditions for Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) negotiations with Brussels. It has failed due to obstruction from the Serbian side.

"The Serbian Democratic Party openly blocks all efforts at reform and receives active encouragement from Belgrade, the Serbian Orthodox Church and Serbia's security structures", says Nicholas Whyte, Director of Crisis Group's Europe Program. "The Belgrade government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica still seems under the delusion it will be able to annex Republika Srpska as part of a Kosovo final status settlement".

Bosnia has long needed substantive police reform. After the 1992-1995 war, in which the police were a key instrument of ethnic cleansing, it was left with three police forces: Bosniak, Croat and Serb, each with its own jurisdictions. The first two have since merged, at least nominally, but Republika Srpska (RS) has refused all efforts to reform structures or integrate them with those of other ethnic groups. The RS force is filled with suspected war criminals and actively supports Hague indictees at large.

If EU integration stalls, the High Representative will have to remain in Sarajevo for more years to head off risk of new conflict. The international community will have to act decisively in the next several weeks to confront the chief obstacles to reform:

  • A clear message needs to be sent that SAA negotiations will not begin with Bosnia until serious police reforms are accepted;
  • If those reforms are not accepted, the Serbian Democratic Party should be banned from political life; and
  • the Security Council, EU and U.S. should press Belgrade to abandon Greater Serbia territorial aspirations; in particular, the EU should suspend Belgrade's own SAA negotiations unless Serbia uses its influence to persuade the RS to accept police reforms.

"No matter how much the international community longs to disengage from Bosnia, police reform is crucial and needs full international commitment", says James Lyon, Director of Crisis Group's Serbia Project. "Otherwise, ethnic chieftains will keep control of the instruments of state violence, and the potential for new hostilities will remain".

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