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The International police Task Force (IPTF)
ICG Bosnia Project, 19 March, 1996


Annex II of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Hercegovina (Dayton Accord) requires the parties to maintain civilian law enforcement agencies, operating in accordance with recognised standards, to "provide a safe and secure environment for all persons in their respective jurisdictions". The parties therefore requested the United Nations to create the necessary agency, the IPTF, to assist them in carrying out this task. The assistance to be provided includes, inter alia, advising on and monitoring of police activities, training, and facilitating. It does not include the direct conduct of police activities such as arrest and apprehension as these remain the responsibility of the Parties themselves. In the event of non-compliance by the Parties or their agents, the ultimate recourse available to the IPTF is to report the details of such non-compliance and to consult "with the United Nations, relevant states, and international organisations on future responses." Violations of basic rights and freedoms are to be reported to "the Human Rights Commission..., the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, or to other appropriate organisations."


Current Status

As of 17 March, more than two months into the mission, the IPTF had 618 of a planned total of 1721 members on the ground. Forecast deployments will see that number rise to 1233 by the end of April. Force headquarters is established in Sarajevo, with three regional headquarters set up in Sarajevo, Banja Luka and Tuzla. Predictably, the Sarajevo Region has the largest number of members at 381, but still far short of its planned establishment of 645.


With no direct law enforcement tasks to perform, the IPTF per se provides no deterrence to real crime. This, of course, is somewhat offset by those members of the force who present themselves as being part of a highly credible police agency. Unfortunately, this is not universal: the IPTF's capability is determined in part by the credentials of its members, some of whom, according to a source, are less proficient in basic police matters "than the least capable NATO private soldier." Good, professional officership and leadership are present, but some of the rank and file fit the description given. As an example, the failure rate in tests of driving skills and basic English is, reputedly, as high as 50% in some national contingents. Failures are sent home at their government's expense.

As an organisation the IPTF had to be assembled from scratch which meant that operational effectiveness would occur long after the arrival of policemen from their home countries. Vehicles, police equipment and radios were simply not readily available, compounding the effects of a lack of common guidelines and efficient, early start-up administration. As a consequence, the frustration level among many of the professionals is reportedly high. This frustration is exacerbated through the presence of false expectations as to what the IPTF should be doing, a condition not unlike that experienced by UNPROFOR in Bosnia throughout much of its existence. Success for the IPTF demands, like UNPROFOR before it, the full cooperation of the agents of Parties, the local police. Both the Bosnian Serbs Police, by their actions in causing damage while vacating the Sarajevo suburbs, and the Federation Police, by condoning looting and hooliganism following the transfer of at least one of the suburbs, left the IPTF with its only available recourse: to report the activities.

Despite these realities, the IPTF is developing itself operationally and professionally under the tireless and able leadership of the Commissioner, and has been able to achieve a fair measure of success in its actions, including the establishment of a close working relationship with I-FOR at senior levels. Recently in Hadzici, for example, the IPTF was able to impose its will on Croat police by threatening I-FOR intervention. Similar evidence of close cooperation at the tactical level is also evident in the preparations for the handover of the Grbavica suburb.

Actions of the Parties to the Agreement

During the transfer of Serb-controlled suburbs of Sarajevo, the Bosnian Serbs have pursued a policy broadly in line with its stated goals by pressuring Serbs not to stay in areas to be governed by the Federation. Most observers conclude that they have permitted, and perhaps organised, the violent intimidation of people who might have been inclined to stay. Likewise, the ruling SDA party seem to have taken a number of steps to encourage the Serbs to leave. Certainly the blatant inaction of the Federation Police in the face of recent intimidation of the few remaining Serbs in Ilidza by Bosnian youths as pointed out by the United Nations indicated some high level complicity; it remains to be seen if the removal of the former Interior Minister from his post as head of a governmental security agency and the subsequent conciliatory statement by President Izetbegovic6 will have any lasting effect. Importantly, these activities indicate that the conditions under which the IPTF is capable of carrying out its mission within the parameters of the mandate are simply not always present, certainly not in Sarajevo.

Current Planning

The IPTF leadership is determined to make the best use of its personnel resources by developing multi-national teams and by exploiting the strengths of each national contingent. In dealing with the parties, police will be insisting upon compliance with international police standards as stated in the mandates. Training initiatives to pursue this end will be undertaken.

Adjustment Options

Simply throwing more resources at the IPTF is not the answer, especially if, as was often the case with UNPROFOR, a quantitative increase means a further qualitative dilution. Similarly, the passage of UN Security Council resolutions calling for more resources without having on hand high quality policemen to fit the bill will simply further degrade IPTF's credibility and utility.

There is, of course, the possibility of hardening the mandate and giving the IPTF more direct law enforcement powers, but two factors mitigate against this: first is the high probability that police contributing nations will be opposed to such a move (unless, possibly, there is to be strong and continuing I-FOR back-up) and more importantly, not only would the Parties be relieved of their legitimate responsibilities, but the IPTF would bear the brunt of criticism for the ensuing and inevitable increase in lawlessness.

The question then arises as to whither IPTF. After the Sarajevo transfers, there may not be a need for a large police supporting and monitoring organisation. Certainly it would be dangerously wrong for the IPTF to be perceived as the follow-on to I-FOR lacking as it does any capacity for enforcement. A smaller cadre of high quality, professional police officers and non-commissioned officers may be more useful and credible. The presence of a highly mobile, effective military reaction force would be a necessary complement.

No matter what actions and initiatives are undertaken by the IPTF, success in the shaping of local police agencies into a form approaching international standards will depend heavily upon changes at the political level in the basic concept of policing. As a first step, the more than 54,000 police, most of whom are trained as soldiers only, must be reduced towards 12,000 trained police, in order to begin to approach international norms.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The IPTF experienced serious start-up difficulties and growing pains, but not because of lack of will among its leaders. Its position in the international hierarchy, well behind I-FOR, UNHCR and the Office of the High Representative, in mandate, size and influence, increases its difficulty in being heard. Its mandate requires the cooperation of the Parties, a cooperation which must be obtained without the carrot and/or stick available to the other organisations. Its success, through hard work and increasing credibility, can only be accomplished incrementally. There are no dramatic solutions.

Operationally, donor countries should be encouraged to provide what they promised, with special emphasis on quality, experience and timeliness.

Strategically, unless there is a qualitative increase in resources and police officers, strongly worded UN Security Council resolutions would be, as often occurred with the UNPROFOR experience, not only a waste of time, but contribute to further erosion of the credibility of the international community.

Politically, the Parties should be reminded that police forces in a democratic society, and in accordance with the international norms to which they have formally subscribed, are not instruments of state control or oppression; nor are they a convenient military substitute. They are, in fact, the instruments by which the rule of law prevails.

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