Bosnia's Stalled Police Reform: No Progress, No EU
Bosnia's Stalled Police Reform: No Progress, No EU
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Report 164 / Europe & Central Asia

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

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.

Executive Summary

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.

Sarajevo/Brussels, 6 September 2005

Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Crisis Group expert Marko Prelec about the precarious situation in the Western Balkans, as Serb separatism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the frozen Kosovo-Serbia dispute continue to stoke regional instability.

The Western Balkans, a region defined in part by not being in the European Union, also contains several countries that were devastated by war in the 1990s. Now it faces new troubles, driven in part by the legacies of the old. Bosnia and Herzegovina is confronted with calls for secession in the autonomous Serb-dominated region, Republika Srpska, as well as the ongoing electoral grievances of its Croat minority. Meanwhile, efforts to resolve Kosovo’s dispute with Serbia over its independence have come to a standstill, leaving minority communities on both sides of the border vulnerable.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Marko Prelec, Crisis Group’s Consulting Senior Analyst for the Balkans, about why ethnic tensions persist in the region and whether there is any risk of a return to conflict. They discuss the prospects for European integration, asking whether the promise of EU membership remains an effective incentive for resolving these longstanding disputes. They also consider what impact Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had for stability in the Western Balkans, a region where painful memories of war are still very salient today.



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For more of Crisis Group’s analysis, make sure to check out our Balkans regional page and keep an eye out for our upcoming report on the risk of instability in the Western Balkans.

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