Policing The Police In Bosnia: A Further Reform Agenda
Policing The Police In Bosnia: A Further Reform Agenda
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans

Policing The Police In Bosnia: A Further Reform Agenda

Despite more than six years of increasingly intrusive reforms carried out at the behest of the UN Mission in Bosnia & Herzegovina (UNMIBH), the local police cannot yet be counted upon to enforce the law.

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Executive Summary

Despite more than six years of increasingly intrusive reforms carried out at the behest of the UN Mission in Bosnia & Herzegovina (UNMIBH), the local police cannot yet be counted upon to enforce the law. Too often – like their opposite numbers in the judiciary – nationally partial, under-qualified, underpaid, and sometimes corrupt police officers uphold the law selectively, within a dysfunctional system still controlled by politicised and nationalised interior ministries.

The ‘long arm of the law’ is inconsistent and infirm, suffering from jurisdictional divisions that do not hinder organised crime and from national-political manipulations that ensure there is one law for well- connected members of majority populations and another for powerless minorities. Top-tier criminals ply their trades with relative impunity, ethnic violence is tolerated and corruption is widespread.

The role of the police is not seen as being to ‘serve and protect’ everyone, but to serve and protect ‘one’s own kind’, whether they be co-nationals, colleagues or political masters. The communist-era doctrine that the police exist to defend the regime persists, except that the working class has been replaced by the nation as the ostensible beneficiary. Even ‘moderate’ politicians expect – and are often allowed – to influence investigations, recruitment and budgetary allocations.

Citizens know they are not only unequal before the law, but unequal before its enforcers. Getting the police to investigate cases that involve the moneyed or powerful  invariably  requires  international pressure and supervision. Even with international insistence  and  assistance,  investigations are often botched. Nowhere is this more evident than in cases involving the continuation or consolidation of wartime ‘achievements’: ‘ethnic cleansing’, the appropriation of public assets and the maintenance of national-territorial divisions. Violence against returning refugees and displaced persons waxes and wanes with the political cycle, but cases are frequently left unresolved after an initial show of serious concern. In similar vein, most war crimes suspects enjoy the effective protection of ‘their  own’.

These unsophisticated but effective methods are symbolised and safeguarded by the continued employment of police officers who were complicit in war crimes. The law enforcement and criminal justice systems will remain compromised  until these officers have been purged. Removal of these and other recidivist or obstructionist elements has been slow. It only takes place when ordered by the international community and, even then, is often circumvented by the domestic authorities. Those who are removed frequently switch jobs within the interior ministries, are rewarded with plum posts in publicly-owned companies, or gain elected office. Culpable individuals are rarely prosecuted.

Yet matters could be much worse. However halting the progress, the international community has taken police reform seriously from the outset – and certainly more seriously than it has heretofore taken judicial reform. At Dayton, the United Nations was tasked to reform police forces that had been part and parcel of their respective masters’ war machines. After initial disorientation and incapacity as it built up its resources and sought to flesh out its mandate, UNMIBH’s  International Police  Task Force  (IPTF) began in earnest: screening officers, de-authorising reprobates and war criminals among them, ensuring that ‘minority’ recruits are hired, seeking to depoliticise police commands, creating new, all- Bosnian law-enforcement bodies such as the State Border Service (SBS), and facilitating inter-entity and regional co-operation.

UNMIBH has latterly been active across a broad field and has initiated numerous remedial programs. After three years of intensified reform efforts, Bosnia’s police forces have begun to justify the decision taken at Dayton that they should be reformed rather than replaced. But the UNMIBH mandate expires at the end of 2002. The European Union (EU) decided in February 2002 to provide a follow-on mission. The EU Police Mission (EUPM) is charged with picking up where the UN will leave off. There is plenty of work still to be done, as many of the UN's programs have not been fully implemented or have been subverted by obstructionist political elites and recalcitrant police officers.

If Bosnia & Herzegovina is eventually to have affordable and competent police forces that  serve and protect all citizens, regardless of nationality or place of residence, from politically and ethnically motivated violence, persecution and ‘justice’ – as well as from rampant organised crime – then there must be no diminution of either oversight or reform. To make this happen, EUPM and the Office of the High Representative (OHR, to which EUPM will be subordinate) should consider the following, general recommendations. The full set of detailed recommendations is given in the Conclusion of this report.

Sarajevo/Brussels, 10 May 2002

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