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Police Reform after the Conflict

Unlike the army, the police in Yugoslavia had been within the domain of each republic. Each republic had its own police force, including intelligence services, with loose co-ordination at the federal level. Police forces were responsible for public safety and order, but also had paramilitary authority mandating them to assist the army in case of emergency and war.4 The police were meant to be representative of the ethnic composition of the population in each republic. However, these provisions were not too strictly implemented and some groups, because of traditional or economic reasons, tended to be under-represented.

1 United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1088 (1996). Available at: (accessed 5 November 2013).

2 International Crisis Group, 'Policing the Police in Bosnia: A Further Reform Agenda', 10 May 2002. Available at: Bosnia%2046.ashx (accessed 5 November 2013).

3 Sanela Osmanovic-Vukelic, 10 Years of EU Police Mission: The Story of EU Police Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sarajevo: EUPM, 2012).

4 Each republic had with their Constitution regulated the role of the police in defending the territory and political system of the state. See for instance Constitution of Socialist Republic of Macedonia, Official Gazette of SRM (No.7/1974) and Law on Internal Affairs of SR Macedonia, Official Gazette of SRM (No.37/1980). Therefore, when Yugoslavia dissolved along its republican borders, each newly independent state inherited its own police force. Lacking an army, the new states used the police to protect their borders and, where conflicts erupted, to fight against the other parties. In Bosnia, the police force was deeply involved in the ethnic conflict, used as a fighting tool by political leaders of the ethnic groups. Yugoslav-era police forces were quickly purged of members of other ethnic groups and each group took over the facilities and infrastructure in the territory they controlled.5 The politicians, used to employing the police as a political tool during communist times, did not refrain from using it for new political goals and purposes during the conflict. As a result, the professional ties that existed between policemen at republican or federal level were severed during the conflict. With the ethnically homogeneous police during the conflict, policing did not offer an opportunity to build a professional, cross-cutting identity among police officers, exposing them only to members of their own ethnic group. Having never enjoyed the good reputation that the Yugoslav army had due to the army's detachment from every-day politics, public perceptions of the police were further marred by their involvement in the conflict, war crimes and violence.

After the conflict, the IPTF UN mission was established to screen the police forces for war criminals and human-rights abusers. However, the mandate of the IPTF did not extend beyond that, so it could not undertake more substantial reforms of the police and law enforcement structures in general. In 2002 the IPTF was replaced by an EU police mission, European Union Police Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (EUPM BIH), whose mandate was similarly limited to providing assistance and strengthening the operational capacity of the country's police forces, but did not extend to restructuring or evaluating the performance of local police forces.6 Some progress was achieved when, in 2002, the state investigation and protection agency was established to fight organised crime across Bosnia, making it the first state-level security institution. This was built upon in 2004, when a single intelligence agency replaced the entity-based agencies. However, the need for further reforms of the regular police remained, since the police forces in the two entities and ten cantons were ethnically divided, heavily politicised, overstaffed and refused to co-operate with each other.7

It was High Representative (HR) Lord Ashdown, after he took over the HR office in 2002, who first addressed the need for further reform in law enforcement. In his initial address to the Bosnian population, he announced that rule of law

5 A. Mayer-Rieckh, 'Vetting to Prevent Future Abuses: Reforming the Police, Courts, and Prosecutor's Offices in Bosnia and Herzegovina', in Justice as Prevention: Vetting Public Employees in Transitional Societies, ed. A. Mayer-Rieckh and P. Greiff (New York: Social Science Research Council, 2007).

6 EU Police Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mandate. Available at: (accessed 5 November 2013).

7 Mayer-Rieckh, 'Vetting to Prevent Future Abuses: Reforming the Police, Courts, and Prosecutor's Offices in Bosnia and Herzegovina'. was going to be his top priority. Supported by the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), which on its next meeting welcomed the announced priority,8 he managed to get most political party leaders to sign up to a reform agenda based on this priority before the 2002 elections.9 Without specifically referring to police reform, his agenda set the background for it. Police reform had already been becoming a priority political topic because the country's aspiration to join EU's Stabilisation and Association process required the full co-operation with the ICTY and strengthening of the rule of law and law enforcement bodies.10

Moreover, the decentralised state structure created by the DPA resulted in a large and inefficient bureaucracy, especially in the fBIH where each of the ten cantons has their own government institutions, civil service and police. Policing was subject to functional autonomy – every entity and canton had exclusive decision-making power over it.11 This placed a major burden on the budget, which without external aid could hardly cover the costs for running the state. In the RS the situation is similar and although the administrative structure is more centralised, it is still inefficient and working on Yugoslav-times principles. By 2004, it was clear that the public sector would need to be reformed in order to make it sustainable, especially since the direct budget contributions that Bosnia had been receiving since the end of the war were decreasing and soon to stop.12

In June 2004, an EU-financed report on the financial, organisational and administrative assessment of the police in Bosnia was published as part of the functional review of the Bosnian public sector. The assessment and report, conducted by external organisations, presented the strength and weaknesses of the police and pointed to the areas and issues that required immediate reform in order to improve rule of law and police efficiency. Among other conclusions, the report pointed out that the decentralised structure of the Bosnian police forces was not a 'weakness per se' but that the lack of structural co-operation between the three

8  Communique by the PIC Steering Board. 27 March 2002. Available at:,1,1 (accessed 20 November 2010).

9  Office of the High Representative, 'An Agenda for Reform Agreed Between the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the International Community', 10 April 2002. Available at: (accessed 5 November 2013).

10 European Union. Enlargement. 'Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 26 May 1999 on the stabilisation and association process for countries of South-Eastern Europe' [COM(1999) 235 final – Not published in the Official Journal]. Available at: western_balkans/r18003_en.htm (accessed 5 November 2013).

11 See earlier definitions of functional autonomy, such as: Ted R. Gurr, Minorities at Risks: A Global View of Ethnopolitical Conflict (Washington DC: US Institute of Peace Press, 1993), and Marc Weller and Katherine Nobbs, Asymmetric Autonomy and the Settlement of Ethnic Conflicts (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010).

12 'Bosnia and Herzegovina', in Imogen Bell (ed.), Central and South Eastern Europe in 2004, 4th edn (London: Europa Publications, 2003). layers of police authority and control: at state, entity and canton levels, was a serious shortcoming. This needed to be addressed by establishing nationwide ties to hold the whole police system together and to ensure efficiency, coherence and inter-operability.13 The report further recommended the establishment of a police restructuring commission to draft the necessary legislative and policy changes and work towards reaching a political consensus on police reform.

However, such consensus did not exist among Bosnian politicians. In the fBIH, there existed at least some general understanding about the desirability of police reform between the three Bosniak parties. The governing Party for Democratic Action (SDA) was supportive of any reforms likely to strengthen state capacity and prospects for EU integration. Among the opposition, the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina (SBIH) was even more vocal on the need to reform and unite the police forces under central control, following their agenda for a unitary Bosnian state. However, this attitude was not shared by Croats and Serbs. Although in the fBIH there were ten separate police forces and ministries of interior, the Croat Democratic Union (HDZ) leaders were opposed to transferring police competency from canton to entity or state levels, as that would mean giving up one of the few powers that Croats had in Croat-dominated cantons. Though some Croats admitted that the 'state is too big and expensive', they claimed that greater and proper decentralisation of power would be a better solution than centralising police competencies.14

In RS, neither the ruling Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) nor the major opposition party, Union of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), were supportive of a police reform entailing central control over police forces. Unlike the army of RS, which had been out of government control since 1996, the police was an instrument that politicians regularly used for political purposes, whether to employ party supporters, attack and arrest political opponents, or target returnees from other ethnic groups. In explaining this government-opposition consensus, a high-ranking SNSD official referred to 'the 10,000 people who are now employed by the entity that would become state employees' and the fact that 'it won't be their friends and relatives that make decisions any more, but decisions will be made by state institutions and people they don't know in Sarajevo', highlighting the close ties and politicised relations between political parties and the police.15 The politicised nature of the police was among the main reasons for launching police

13 Final Assessment Report. Financial, Organization and Administrative Assessment of the BIH Police Forces and the State Border Service. Sarajevo, 30 June 2004. Available at: BiHPoliceFinalReport2004-06-30ENPRINT.pdf (accessed 20 November 2010).

14 A member of HDZ in Sarajevo: personal interview with the author, Sarajevo, 25 September 2010.

15 RS government official, high-ranking member of the SNSD: personal interview with the author, 20 September 2010. reform by the HR, who had anticipated the resistance to the proposed reforms, but saw that as an additional reason to pursue police reform.

As a result, between 2004 and 2008 there were continuous efforts by the HR and the international community involved in the country to proceed with police reforms. However, as the following sections discuss, only limited progress was achieved in this area, because political elites repeatedly failed to accommodate over the sensitive issue. In the course of these four years, the negotiations centred over two different reform proposals, one advanced by Lord Ashdown, based on the work of the Police Restructuring Commission (PRC); the second, proposed by Miroslav Lajčak during his term as a High Representative between 2007 and 2008. The following sections examine the interactions between political leaders from the three ethnic groups over these two proposals, tracing the factors behind the ethnic resistance encountered in both cases.

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