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Policing The Police In Bosnia: A Further Reform Agenda

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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 The communist-era doctrine that the police exist to defend the regime persists, except that the working class has been replaced by the nation as the ostensible beneficiary.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.



1. Whichever forum or OHR task force is designated to preside over the full range of rule of law reforms under the incoming High Representative, that body should ensure effective coordination among the organisations involved in order to:

(a) Standardise the terms and conditions under which police officers serve across Bosnia & Herzegovina;

(b) Guarantee that sufficient resources are made available to support a depoliticised, honest, competent and cost-effective police service;

(c) Provide a means for human rights monitors to participate directly in the oversight of the police, alongside the follow-on mission.

2. Measures to enhance the accountability of Bosnia's police forces should be put in train or reinforced. These should include:

(a) The establishment of an independent police complaints authority;

(b) The maintenance of the UN mission's anti-trafficking and judicial assessment teams and its register of police personnel;

(c) The completion of in-depth audits of police commands and administrations and the establishment of an EUPM liaison office in The Hague.

3. The recruitment of 'minority' personnel to the entities' police forces should be revamped in line with the implementation of the "Constituent Peoples" decision and according to targets based on the 1991 census.

4. EUPM will need to build on UNMIBH efforts to professionalise and de-politicise the BiH police, reviewing the operations of Professional Standards Units (PSUs), disciplinary procedures, police academies, and police commissioners. Given its strategy of upper-level co-location, it will also have to ensure that its own ranks are filled by officers and experts of the requisite calibre.

5. The screening and de-authorisation of serving Bosnian police officers and interior ministry employees should be extended and reinvigorated to eliminate war crimes suspects, those with bogus qualifications and already de-authorised officers who have been recycled into administrative or advisory positions.

6. EUPM should mandate operational-level information-sharing among Bosnia's police forces and work to facilitate such practical exchanges among the states of the region. It might also encourage greater citizen involvement in and identification with the fight against crime.

7. The rationalisation of Bosnia's police forces should be expedited while both international financial assistance and supervisory mechanisms remain available. Not only should the overall complement of police officers be cut by some 20 per cent, but the opportunity should also be taken to reinforce state-level forces and to reconfigure those of the entities in line with contemporary needs.

Sarajevo/Brussels, 10 May 2002


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