Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Bosnia: EU Police Performance Slammed

Unpublished ICG report says the EU police mission’s record renders it unfit to oversee Bosnian police reform.
By Hugh Griffiths

A damning report on the European Union's Police Mission EUPM in Bosnia and Hercegovina questions the organisation’s ability to oversee the reform of the local police forces.

The report, by the International Crisis Group, ICG, says reforms could be “doomed to failure from the very start”, if the EUPM is entrusted with the process.

The unpublished report has been widely circulated amongst international policy-makers at Bosnia's Office of the High Representative, OHR, and is likely to trigger much comment in the media.

International observers and policy-makers view police reform as the litmus test for Bosnia's long-term viability and as central to its future EU integration.

But hard-line Bosnian Serbs have blocked plans to merge the existing two, entity-based, police forces controlled by the Republika Srpska, RS, and the largely Bosniak and Croat Federation.

Control of the police is widely acknowledged to be a key tool for Bosnia’s hard-line nationalist parties and the dominant force in the RS, the Serbian Democratic Party, the SDS, has been particularly reluctant to surrender control in this field.

At the latest meeting on August 17, representatives of the two entities again failed to agree on police unification.

Whether the politicians can be coerced into agreeing on reform at follow-up meetings remains to be seen.

The OHR spokesman, Mario Brkic, told the Balkan Crisis Report, BCR, that the EUPM will be “in charge” of implementing any police restructuring. But the ICG report suggests this may have a disastrous impact on one of the most sensitive political projects in post-war Bosnia.

It questions whether EUPM should be involved in implementing police reform at all, given its 30-month record in Bosnia.

“After all, the EUPM has spent the last two years doing nothing except to try to reform the police and the results are negligible,” it said.

Since it was set up in January 2003 to succeed the UN international police in Bosnia, the EUPM has been in charge of monitoring whether the Bosnian police in the Federation and RS meet European standards.

The findings of the unpublished report are in line with the opinions of many long-term international and Bosnian analysts and with the privately-expressed opinions of OHR officials.

It says the EUPM broadly failed to address any of its four strategic priorities, which were to develop police independence and accountability, the fight against organised crime and corruption, financial viability and institution - and capacity-building.

“No matter what criteria are used to assess the performance of EUPM, the indicators are depressing,” reads the report.

A key statistic noted by the report is that according to the RS and Federation police directorates, reported crime has risen by 22 per cent in the RS and by 32 per cent in the Federation since the EUPM mission began.

It lists basic EUPM shortcomings, including the inability of many officers to communicate well in English. Many recruits to the EUPM, it said, “possess only a rudimentary grasp” [of English]”.

The report is also critical of EUPM’s command structure, which it says places police with little grasp of Balkan politics over experienced civilians. “Those in charge... seemed to be under the erroneous impression that inexperienced young policemen could somehow gently massage through police reform in a country notorious for harbouring war criminals amongst its [police] ranks,” said the document.

Civilians were in charge of the EUPM’s predecessor, the United Nations International Police Task Force, IPTF, which is one reason why the ICG judges that the UN organisation performed better than its EU replacement.

The ICG report also cited a lack of equipment in the mission in its early days and “cumbersome operational procedures”, which it described as “both extremely formalised and extremely inefficient”.

“Most alarming of all is the absence of any direct or logical line of command and reporting with each field office enjoying virtual independence of the headquarters,” it says.

Overall, the ICG report cited a “prevailing culture of inaction” at the EUPM, saying that “in the absence of any substantive work on reform, EUPM produces hundreds of pages of reports and analyses which … are in essence an attempt to justify the existence of the mission and to conceal that it does nothing important on the ground”.

EUPM spokesperson Killian Wahl dismissed most of the report’s findings. He said a working knowledge of English was a key criteria for work in the mission and that although the EUPM was led by a policeman, he reported to a civilian, the EU Special Representative, EUSR, Paddy Ashdown.

Concerning the chain of command, Wahl said, “We have very tight benchmarking system, which is web-based, to which the project managers have to report.

“Our benchmarking system … has set standards for international missions.”

The ICG report cites some achievements of the EUPM. These include its contribution to establishing a credible court police, launching a “crime-stoppers” hotline, preventing human trafficking via its “FIGHT” project and the most notable achievement, the establishment of a nascent FBI – the State Information and Protection Agency, SIPA.

But both EUPM and OHR officials have told BCR that the success of these programmes was largely down to the fact that they were mainly run by British police, working with the OHR. The unpublished ICG report is likely to generate much comment about the EUPM in the local media. “Apart from the commissioner [Kevin Carty] … the operation does very little in terms of improving policing in Bosnia,” said Antonio Prlenda, a security correspondent with Sarajevo daily, Oslobodjenje, “and this is a view shared by nearly all Bosnians.”

He added, “I don’t see how they can justify their [38 million euro] budget.”

Hugh Griffiths is IWPR/BIRN investigations coordinator.