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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Europe > Balkans > Bosnia and Herzegovina > Bosnia’s Stalled Police Reform: No Progress, No EU

Bosnia’s Stalled Police Reform: No Progress, No EU

Europe Report N°164 6 Sep 2005


The international strategy for Bosnia and Herzegovina risks derailment. It consists entirely of preparing the country for eventual European Union (EU) membership in the hope that integration processes will overcome ethno-political divides and their intertwined economic and criminal interests. However, the police reform needed to begin negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU appears hopelessly blocked. With integration stalled, the international community will have to maintain its High Representative in Sarajevo for at least two to three years, if not longer, to head off dangers of new conflict unless it acts decisively in the next several weeks to confront the chief obstacles to reform: the main Bosnian Serb political party and the Belgrade government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.

Bosnia has long needed substantive police reform. During the 1992-1995 war, the police were a key instrument of ethnic cleansing – particularly in Republika Srpska (RS) and the Croatian areas of the Federation. The war left Bosnia with three police forces: Bosniak, Croat and Serb, each with its own jurisdictions. The first two have since merged, at least nominally, but the RS has refused all efforts to reform structures or integrate them with those of other ethnic groups. Police throughout the country have remained highly politicised, acting at the behest of politicians to obstruct implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords, in particular refugee return, and heavily involved in organised crime. The RS force is filled with war criminals and actively supports persons indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR) is attempting to gain agreement on sweeping police reform for the entire country to satisfy criteria established by the European Commission as preconditions for SAA negotiations. It has failed, due to obstruction from the Serbian side. The leading RS party – the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) – openly blocks all efforts at reform and receives active encouragement from the Serbian government, the Serbian Orthodox Church and Serbia’s security structures, which desire to annex RS as part of a Kosovo final status settlement.

The OHR and Bosnia’s other parties have made significant concessions to the RS, watering down the reform proposal to the extent that it may not satisfy two of the three European Commission criteria, but in vain. The most recent idea floated by the Bosnian prime minister would merely delay the important decisions for at least a year or two and would not constitute serious reform.

If a 15 September deadline is not met, the European Commission will formally reject Bosnia’s bid to negotiate an SAA, and the reform window will close at least for two years, because the country will be preoccupied with elections in 2006. The only chance to get police reform and European integration back on track is for the international community to decide now to put meaningful pressure on the obstructionists in Banja Luka and Belgrade, beginning with a decision to shake up RS politics by banning the SDS if its failure to compromise on police reform causes Bosnia to miss the deadline for EU negotiations. It should also reassess the disappointing performance of the EU Police Mission (EUPM) and use the expiration of its mandate at year’s end to replace it with a more effective institution with a broader mandate.


To the High Representative and Members of the Peace Implementation Council:

1.  Insist that the current watered-down proposal be strengthened to meet the three criteria established by the European Commission.

2.  Place serious pressure on the Republika Srpska to accept police reform, beginning by banning the SDS as a political party and seizing its assets if its failure to compromise on police reform causes Bosnia to miss the deadline for negotiations with the EU on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement.

3.  Seek a public declaration from Belgrade that it has no territorial aspirations towards Bosnia and Herzegovina and will respect Bosnia’s borders in the event of a Kosovo final status determination.

4.  Return to the original police reform plan developed by the EUPM, including:

a) five police regions rather than ten;

b) community oversight councils, with participation of local civil society groups, particularly women; and

c) without entity representatives as deputies to the director of local police, the community oversight councils, and the police board.

To the European Union:

5.  Place serious pressure on Belgrade to support international community policy on Bosnia, beginning with a warning that the Stabilisation and Association process with Serbia and Montenegro will be suspended unless the Kostunica government uses its influence with the RS to achieve early agreement on police reform.

6.  Shut down the EUPM at the end of its mandate and establish in its place a new police mission with a mandate at least as strong as that of the EUPM’s predecessor organisation, the International Police Task Force (IPTF), with the expectation that its powers will be used to remove recalcitrant police officials.

Sarajevo/Brussels, 6 September 2005

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