The United Nations International Police Task Force’s
Role in Screening Local Law Enforcement

Vol. 8, No. 15 (D), September 1996



The United Nations International Police Task Force (IPTF) faces a crucial test, with little time remaining. From the international community it needs the necessary resources and political support to accomplish its goals: vetting the local police of Bosnia-Hercegovina and ensuring that they are respectful of human rights and free of officers implicated in past “ethnic cleansing.” If there is to be long-term peace and respect for fundamental human rights in Bosnia-Hercegovina, those who carried out serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during the war must be removed from positions of power and held accountable for their abusive conduct.

Nowhere is this process more crucial than among the local police forces of Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation. The conflict in Bosnia-Hercegovina was characterized by massive human rights violations against civilians, and the perpetrators of the abuses were frequently members of local police forces. Furthermore, after the cessation of hostilities, demobilized soldiers and paramilitaries in some areas joined the local police. The existing local police force needs to be reduced, restructured and reformed. It needs to overcome not only its war-time past, but its communist past as well. But most of all, in order to be restructured, retrained and able to enjoy any degree of public confidence and trust, it must be purged of individuals with records of severe human rights abuses.

IPTF has a mandate to restructure and retrain the local police forces. While primarily charged with the oversight of law enforcement activities in the country that is, tasks related to preventing or decreasing the number of current human rights violations IPTF also has the potential to affect the future human rights situation, and accountability for past abuses as well. Created under the terms of the Dayton peace agreement, IPTF was charged with overseeing civilian policing activities in Bosnia-Hercegovina during the presence of international forces in the country, and with helping to create a new, democratic police force that will be left in place after international actors leave.

IPTF’s mandate to vet the local police of Bosnia-Hercegovina gives it the opportunity to make a particularly important contribution to long-term security and respect for human rights in the country. If the vetting is done properly, IPTF can help to create a new, democratic police force. The importance of this aspect of IPTF’s mandate cannot be underestimated. Local police will be left on the scene when international forces leave the area, and it will be the local police who will largely determine whether the human rights of citizens of Bosnia-Hercegovina are protected and upheld. If, however, before any restructuring and retraining takes places, candidates are not thoroughly screened, the whole process will be rendered futile, and all the significant resources invested in it, a waste.

As the three-quarters mark of the duration of IPTF’s initial mandate approaches, this report examines aspects of the human rights role that IPTF has played and looks at the prospects for restructuring the local police and, in particular, the task of screening candidates for police jobs. Whereas restructuring is already underway in the Bosniak-Croat Federation, with a basic agreement reached in April and further details agreed upon in May, no such progress has occurred on the Republika Srpska side. In the Republika Srpska, no agreement has been signed as of this writing, and the entire process has been stalled. In this report, we make recommendations to enhance the IPTF’s current effectiveness and maximize its ability to reform the local police.



Human Rights Watch urges the IPTF to:

  increase patrolling activities in areas with a high incidence of human rights abuses. In places where the security of IPTF monitors is at risk, IPTF should coordinate with the Implementation Forces (IFOR) to ensure that patrolling activities are not obstructed;

instruct all stations immediately to record and report to IPTF Headquarters all instances of non-compliance with the Dayton agreement by members of the local police and act upon them quickly;

publicize the screening process through the local media, including by placing paid advertisements and creating mechanisms through which the local population can furnish the IPTF with information regarding abusive police officers, and including assurances of complete anonymity for witnesses. The announcements should spell out the selection criteria and explain the process to the public;

establish mechanisms to protect individuals who provide information on abusive officials to the IPTF. Without protection mechanisms in place, intimidation will prevent people from reporting their experiences;

develop a relationship with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), with an agreement to share information on records the ICTY holds on police officials or officers;

seek information from local and international human rights organizations regarding human rights abuses committed by members of the police;

publicize the vetting process through the international media;

consider information submitted by nongovernmental organizations and local witnesses in evaluating applicants’ compliance with the provisions of the Dayton agreement, given that IPTF officers may have not reported all serious cases of non-compliance to the Sarajevo headquarters;

ensure that all police officers responsible for post-Dayton human rights abuses, harassment of or threats against minorities, or who have failed to investigate and punish those responsible for human rights abuses committed under their jurisdiction, will automatically be made ineligible for police posts;

make sure that all police officers guilty of non-compliance with the provisions of the Dayton agreement will be automatically made ineligible for police posts. Acts of non-compliance should be understood to include, but not be limited to the obstruction of freedom of movement, failure to protect the rights to return or remain, and violation of an individual’s freedom of expression and association;

ensure that all police who have threatened or committed acts of violence against IPTF, as well as those police officers temporarily detained by IFOR, will automatically be made ineligible for police posts;

establish procedures in coordination with the Office of the High Representative to deal with any refusal by the Ministry of the Interior of Republika Srpska or by Federation authorities, including officials of the so-called Herzeg-Bosna, to cooperate with the vetting process; and

guarantee that the procedure by which allegations of abuse are evaluated ensures that the accused individual is given notice of the accusations against him or her, and that he or she has an opportunity to provide evidence that might refute such allegations.

Human Rights Watch urges the Security Council of the United Nations to:

  ensure, as a matter of urgent priority, that IPTF is given all necessary resources (including but not limited to interpreters, vehicles, communications and technical equipment) to perform its mandated duties and to assure the safety of IPTF monitors themselves; and

request that the secretary-general inform in his next report on measures taken by IPTF to remove individuals with a record of human rights abuses or non-compliance with the Dayton agreement from the police forces of the Bosniak-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska.

Human Rights Watch urges the High Representative to:

  declare the failure on the part of the leadership of Republika Srpska to reach an agreement regarding the restructuring of the police force as non-compliance with the Dayton agreement, and recommend that the Security Council reimpose sanctions.

Human Rights Watch urges the international community to:

  make the thorough screening of applicants for police jobs a precondition for any bilateral and multilateral aid earmarked for modernizing and retraining the police of Bosnia-Hercegovina.







  Abuses Against Civilians Perpetrated by Local Police or
    Failure by Police to Stop Abuses
  Failure to Cooperate with IPTF and Instances of Non-compliance
    on the Part of Local Police
  Threats Against and Acts of Hostility Toward IPTF by Local Police


Human Rights Watch      September 1996      Vol. 8, No. 15 (D)

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