IV Continuing Challenges: Persisting Ethnic tensions

After Conflict

Police Reform in Bosnia: Ethnicity above Efficiency


This chapter traces the progress of police reforms in post-conflict Bosnia. It investigates the factors behind the resistance to, and the failure of, police reform. After the initial stages of stabilisation and post-conflict recovery in Bosnia were completed by 2001, reforms started in the area of security, including police reform. Although between 2002 and 2004 the government successfully negotiated reforms of the military in a bid to join NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme, police reforms followed a less accommodating path. Despite repeated negotiations, external pressure and conditionality for progress on EU integration, the political leaders failed to find an acceptable model for reforming the police. By 2008, despite the lack of progress with police reform as the main requirement, the EU ratified the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Bosnia.

The findings suggest that in the case of failed police reform, other than the various veto mechanisms available to each group and entity, power-sharing elements appear to have had limited impact on ethnic accommodation. Weak central government and the lack of entity-level executive coalitions made accommodation across the three ethnic groups difficult and encouraged nationalist politics. Extensive functional and territorial autonomy for the entities made politicians defensive of their entity competencies. They remain sceptical to any reform entailing transfer of competencies to state level, especially in the RS. Finally, the failed attempts to reform the police also point to the limits of external influence over domestic political elites.

Police in Post-conflict Security in Bosnia and Herzegovina

As discussed in earlier chapters, the ethnic conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina led to an almost complete failure of the state to provide security to its citizens. State institutions inherited from Yugoslavia, including the police as the main law enforcement and public safety body, lost the capacity to fulfil their constitutional mandates. The police could not provide public safety and rule of law. Rather, they became a tool often used for ethnic intimidation and violence during the conflict, taking a role completely opposed to police's legal purpose. Therefore, it was not surprising that the local police, or rather the separate police forces controlled by
each ethnic group, were not allowed to take over immediate post-conflict provision of security. These functions were temporarily given to international organisations. While NATO and OSCE took over military security, the UN International Police Task Force (IPTF) was responsible for civilian police tasks and ensuring sufficient levels of law enforcement and public safety. The IPTF was additionally entrusted with investigating human rights abuses among members of the police forces, which had been heavily involved in the conflict on all sides.1 Police officers in both RS and fBIH were screened for abuses of human rights and war crimes. Those found to be implicated in such actions and crimes were not issued with the certificate required for continuing their employment in the police. By 2002, between 1,500 and 2,000 police officers were de-authorised for failing to comply with IPTF criteria, including some 190 suspected of having been implicated in crimes against humanity during the war.2 The IPTF thus took measures to increase public safety and popular confidence in the police, whose reputation had been

severely damaged during the war.

However, this process was not smooth and was continuously contested by domestic political elites from all sides along with members of the police forces who have had their licenses revoked.3 Police remained a contentious issue throughout the first few years after the conflict and despite their limited powers politicians still vied to keep the local police under their control, as a useful political and security tool in the unstable political context in the country.

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