Effectiveness of the International Civilian Police in the UNMIBH


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr.

The aim of this paper is to evaluate the effectiveness of the international civilian police in fulfilling their role, duties, and responsibilities (improve peace and security) at the micro, meso, and macro levels in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is important to note that a progressive change in the agenda occurred in the international police mission that marked an emphasis on nation building opposed to simply ending a war. This evolved agenda brought challenges to the international civilian police and, therefore, their effectiveness is assessed herein in purview of such context. In December 1995, the United Nations International Police Task Force (IPTF) and a United Nations civilian office combined to form the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH) (UN 2003). By November 1996, 1,721 police monitors had been deployed (Chappel and Evans 1999).

The role, duties, and responsibilities of the international civilian police mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina are best viewed from the perspective of the actual mandate received. According to the United Nations,

UNMIBH’s mandate was to contribute to the establishment of the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina by assisting in reforming and restructuring the local police, assessing the functioning of the existing judicial system and monitoring and auditing the performance of the police and others involved in the maintenance of law and order (UN 2003).

It was outside of the scope of this paper to provide a detailed analysis of the challenges that the international civilian police faced in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  They were plentiful, nevertheless. Likewise, there have been many critics regarding the effectiveness of the UNMIBH. However, the IPTF undoubtedly contributed directly and indirectly to improvements in security and peace.

At the Micro-level

The Problem: At the micro or individual level of the mission there was a need to change the focus of the local mono-ethnic paramilitary police from the security of the state to the security of individuals (UN 2003). To do so, the IPTF would have to engage in training and monitoring. Amidst post-conflict ethnic divisions, the police had been discriminating, harassing, and intimidating citizens of different ethnic backgrounds and using checkpoints to block free movement at the Inter-Entity Boundary Line (UN 2003). Additionally, they were corrupt and politically dominated. (UN 2003). It was thus apparent that the police needed to be reformed and restructured.

The Plan: To reform the local police, the IPTF began assessing the capacity of the local police to meet international standards of professionalism and integrity (UN 2003). To ensure compliance, the IPTF began conducting extensive background checks and set up a data bank to register and store comprehensive background information on all personnel. This preceded a demanding process leading to full certification of officers or removal of provisional authorization when they failed to meet such standards (UN 2003). Monitoring and auditing the performance of the local police was not carried out without first attempting to improve their professional skills (UN 2003). Mandatory training courses that included a week-long human dignity course and other specialized training were provided to all police officers (UN 2003). This training was provided by two police academies (one in Sarajevo and one in Banja Luka) (UN 2003).

Effectiveness: Despite the rampant abuses by the local police prior to the presence and patrolling of nearly 2,000 IPTF monitors, stability improved (UN 2003). After the establishment of the data bank, 23, 751 out of 44,000 personnel were registered, and 15,786 were granted full certification. The academies provided training for 935 cadets, all police administrations improved minority representation while 450 females had been recruited, and 170 more were in training (UN 2003).

At the Meso-level

The Problem: At the meso or organizational level there was the need to ensure more accountability, delegitimize and discourage corruption, and ensure that human rights violations were not tolerated. Political influence would need to be addressed, and police forces would need to cooperate (Heyer 2012). Operation Transparency, in particular, revealed a failure of the ministry to integrate and unify its organizational structures. In the Federation,  there was the need to replace parallel policing in separate structures with unified policing of a multi-ethnic force. In the Republic Srpska, there was the need to improve ethnic representation, decentralization, and transparency which proved a need for accountability (Heyer 2012).

The Plan: To restructure the police, the IPTF intended to improve the resource adequacy of all police administrations, the efficiency of organizational structure, multi-ethnic representation and gender balance (UN 2003). Additionally, independent police commissioners and directors of police were established at the canton and entity levels to prevent political interference (UN 2003). The selection and registration process at the micro level provided a means to realize gains at the meso level. That is, the focus on reforming individual officers created opportunity to improve equality at the organizational level as evidenced by the increase of minorities and females hired and trained (UN 2003).  Additionally, The IPTF established 800 positions across the Federation and the Republica Srpska ministries (Heyer 2012). This strategy involved the co-location of IPTF with local senior police managers that allowed close monitoring at the organizational level. From there, a weapons inspection program in local police stations was implemented to ensure that police officers maintained weapons only in sensible proportions to their job duties. This standardized weapons inventory did not allow for more than one long-barreled rifle for every 10 officers and no more than one side arm for each officer (Heyer 2012). Performance reports were used to document minor inadequacies with the intent to resolve them through training or other support (Heyer 2012). Likewise, noncompliance reports recorded more serious duty failures and violations of the law with the intent to subject the associated police officers to disciplinary measures and IPTF scrutiny (Heyer 2012).

Effectiveness: Co-location of IPTF discouraged political interference through increased monitoring and establishing independent police commissioners (UN 2003).  The IPTF broke down a degree of divisive nationalist blocks of power through integrating the police services. The co-location also destabilized the former lack of transparency and made corruption more difficult through monitoring. The IPTF, after working in tandem with the Criminal Justice Advisory Unit, improved the local police’s ability to understand criminal procedures, produce quality criminal reports, and fostered cooperation between local police and the criminal justice system (UN 2003).

At the Macro-level

The Problem: At the macro or state level there was the need to improve the overall security situation. That is, effective state-level law enforcement institutions rely upon inter-police cooperation to prevent national, regional, and transnational crimes (UN 2003). Such mechanisms had not existed with efficacy as evidenced by resolution 1144 which entrusted UNMIBH to address security issues such as refugee returns, organized crime, drugs, corruption, terrorism, public crisis management, and the detection of financial crimes and smuggling (UN 2003).

The Plan: To improve the overall security situation, the UNMIBH worked toward the establishment of a state-level institution known as the State Border Service (UN 2003). Later, the establishment of the State Information and Protection Agency provided a medium for state-level central information gathering, analysis, and data distribution, and enhanced security for VIPs and facilities (UN 2003). To promote statewide and regional police cooperation, UNMIBH established The Ministerial Consultative Meeting on Police Matters and the Joint Task Force along with the Committee of Ministers and the Regional Task Force (UN 2003). Additionally, the National Central Bureau of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) in Sarajevo was established to strengthen local capacity for international crime prevention. Still further, to combat human trafficking, in particular, UNMIBH established the Special Trafficking Operations Programme (S.T.O.P.). Although these mechanisms were designed for local ownership, IPTF continued to occupy a monitoring role (UN 2003). A national public awareness campaign was established to restore the public trust and confidence that had been lost because of the political corruption and abusive behavior of the local police (UN 2003). Some campaigns educated the public about the State Border Service through a bi-monthly newspaper, radio, and a Mission web-site. These campaigns were accompanied by additional multi-ethnic recruitment (UN 2003).  Attempts to facilitate cooperation between police and military were carried out by orchestrating participation in UN peacekeeping operations (UN 2003). Both civilian police contingents and military observers were multi-ethnic and were deployed throughout various missions (UN 2003).

Effectiveness: Training for quality improvement was achieved in all but one police administration, and a multi-ethnic court police force was successfully trained and deployed in the Federation and the Republic Srpska (UN 2003). The State Border Service achieved 100% coverage of land borders, controlled three airports, and generated over $1.2 million for the Treasury-majority of which, came from seized goods. Under the monitoring of the IPTF, S.T.O.P. contributed to 800 raids, shut down 151 of 240 establishments identified with trafficking, repatriated 264 trafficking victims, and set up safe houses in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The awareness campaigns and police-sponsored community and school events further increased public confidence (UN 2003). State and regional level inter-police forums and a procedure for future contributions to peacekeeping operations were transferred to local ownership (UN 2003). Further, according to Dominique Wisler, the IPTF’s democratization of the police is responsible for the return of 1 million externally and internally displaced persons to their original place of residence by 2004 (2007, 262).


Overall, the international civilian police were effective in reforming, restructuring, assessing, monitoring, and auditing, as part of their mandate to contribute to the establishment of the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The deployment of multi-ethnic troops in UN missions offered astounding proof of the effectiveness of the IPTF. Another undeniable feat of the mission was the certification of personnel and accreditation of institutions (Secretary-General 2002). In the end, the ground had been tilled and seeds sown to overcome the traditional repressive role of the police and the lack of ethnic representation. Responsibilities to water those seeds were transferred to the EUPM (Vejnovic and Lalic 2005). Summarily, the international civilian police were effective when viewed strictly from the beginning to end of the mission.


When analyzing the case of the international civilian police in the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH), I learned that the success or effectiveness of a mission is never without its critics. Additionally, I gained a glimpse into how many different ways the effectiveness of a mission can be analyzed. For example, there are many different implications that may be drawn from a variety of explications such as time, space, political disposition, etc. Particularly, there may be a high level of effectiveness at the individual level that grossly pales in comparison to the effectiveness at the organizational or international system level. There may be a high level of effectiveness during the mission that proves unsustainable or “ineffective” over the long term or at the post-mission phase. Further, measuring effectiveness by the level of democratization that occurred within the police force could yield different results than those produced by quantifying the level of human rights abuses that continued to occur after the mission was complete.

Taking such complexities into consideration, there were two overarching lessons I learned from my case study: Democratization demands diversity; Sustainable improvements demand adequate infrastructure. 

I believe the IPTF (during the UNMIBH) succeeded at fostering the democratization of the local police as evidenced by the standardization of multi-ethnic recruitment and hiring. Institutions and organizations are made up of individuals (micro) and, therefore, applying such a framework paved inroads at the organizational (mesa) and state (macro) levels. Such diversity was institutionalized through certification of individuals and accreditation of institutions. These improvements were built upon by preparing a multi-ethnic police/military UN mission deployment force which provided cross-organizational diversity and opportunities for reconciliatory interaction and cooperation. This multi-layered approach cut at the root of the war and post-war problem of ethnic hatred. That is not to say that the bureaucratic nature of the local police and other systems were improved, which, might constitute an entirely separate research perimeter, but that democratization occurred with at least some level of effectiveness.

In contrast, as pointed out by Dominique Wisler, limitations or weaknesses in the efforts of the IPTF could be identified as the “…underdevelopment of all so-called support processes of the police forces” (Wisler 2007, 262). That is, improvements were realized most directly at the operational level or in regard to traditional functions, but policy planning, budgeting, and human resources and other management level issues did not receive proper attention. Such lack of attention weakened rather than strengthened the prospect that improvements would be sustainable. The effects of which would be immediately realized by the European Union Police Mission (EUPM). Nevertheless, Wisler asserted, “The managerial weaknesses of the police were important but “fixable.” They did not point towards a fundamental flaw in the police reform” (2007, 263). Wisler would further attribute these infrastructure or structure-related weaknesses to the need for constitutional reform. Thus, I defended IPTF’s effectiveness as constitutional reform was outside the scope of its mandate.





Chappell, Duncan, and John Evans. 1999. “The Role, Preparation and Performance of Civilian Police in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations. “Criminal Law Forum 10, no. 2: 171-271. Criminal Justice Abstracts with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed January 18, 2015).

Heyer, Garth den. The Role of Civilian Police in Peacekeeping. Washington: Police Foundation, 2012.

Secretary-General, UN. Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Final Report, United Nations Security Council, 2002.

United Nations. United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 2003. http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/past/unmibh/background.html (accessed January 19, 2015).

Vejnovic, Dusko, and Velibor Lalic. 2005. “Community Policing in a Changing World: A Case Study of Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Police Practice & Research 6, no. 4: 363-373. Criminal Justice Abstracts with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed January 18, 2015).

Wisler, Dominique. 2007. “The International Civilian Police Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina: From Democratization to Nation-Building.” Police Practice & Research 8, no. 3: 253-268. Criminal Justice Abstracts with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed January 18, 2015).


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