New ESI report - How the UN violated human rights in Bosnia ...

12 February 2007

Dear friends of ESI,

In 2005 the International Commission on the Balkans wrote that the choice facing the EU in the Balkans is between Empire or Enlargement. Judging by recent events the trend is towards empire at the expense of enlargement.

The EU in Bosnia and Kosovo

It now appears that the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina will not be closed in 2007. Nor will its extraordinary executive and legislative powers – to dismiss elected and appointed officials and to impose legislation, the so-called 'Bonn powers' – be phased out as planned this summer.

Self-imposed deadlines to close down international missions have a habit of slipping. The previous High Representative, Paddy Ashdown, hoped to close the OHR in time for the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Agreement in 2005. His successor, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, took on the job with an even clearer mandate to bring the protectorate to an end. But the date first shifted beyond the October 2006 elections, then into early 2007, and could now slip beyond the horizon.

Now it appears that Kosovo may go down a similar route. Current plans for a post-status Kosovo envisage an international mission with unlimited powers to dismiss politicians, monitor the budget and impose legislation (will this be called the 'Vienna powers'?). It now looks like there will be two EU protectorates in the Western Balkans for the foreseeable future.

This comes at an obvious price: 'limited democracies', where the final authority rests in the hands of foreigners, cannot be candidates for EU membership. Genuine Europeanisation – the most effective tool for the institutional and structural changes needed in the region – looks like an increasingly remote prospect.

Are international missions accountable?

The entrenchment of the Balkan protectorates revives a question that ESI has posed in the past: to whom are international missions accountable, given their extraordinary powers? What happens when they make mistakes and violate the rights of citizens in the territories they govern?

This is not a hypothetical question. A new ESI report published this weekend – On Mount Olympus – How the UN violated human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina and why nothing was done about it until today – describes the powerlessness of Bosnians who have seen their rights violated by the UN many years ago and who have tried in vain to get international organizations to take their complaints seriously.

Between 1996 and 2002, the UN ran a large police mission in Bosnia, the International Police Task Force (IPTF). One of the tasks it set itself was to rid the Bosnian police forces of inappropriate personnel through an exhaustive vetting procedure. A total of 793 police officers were banned for life from exercising police powers. However, these individuals were not offered even the most basic procedural safeguards. As the UN mission scrambled to complete the task before the end of its mandate in Bosnia, mistakes were made, some of which resulted in serious injustice.

That mistakes were made in such a complex process is hardly a scandal. What is alarming, however, is that once flaws in the process had become apparent, labeled human rights violations by authorities as respected as the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, the UN and other international institutions in Bosnia refused either to remedy them, or to allow Bosnian institutions to do so. Instead, the international mission closed ranks, accusing the Bosnians of trying to undermine the rule of law.

At the centre of this report is an exchange of letters between the High Representative in Bosnia and the UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations in New York. It shows that international officials have been aware for many years that mistakes have been made. However, the only action on which the two institutions have been able to agree was to intimidate Bosnian courts and authorities into doing nothing.

Recently Bosnian authorities have begun to be more active and assertive (see the recent article in The New York Times). Perhaps this will help resolve a problem that international organisations have proven unwilling to address.

There are lessons here for Kosovo. Given the wide-ranging powers of the future international mission, it is imperative to put credible safeguards in place to protect the rights of Kosovo residents. A powerful and independent ombudsman must be able to investigate complaints made by Kosovo citizens against the international mission. Kosovo citizens who claim that their human rights are violated should be able to appeal to an independent review mechanism.

ESI Presentations

In January this year ESI co-organised a Wilton Park conference on the Kosovo economy. We continue to present our report Cutting the Lifeline – Migration, Remittances and the Future of Kosovo in Kosovo and to European media.

ESI analysts also presented our research in other fora: at the 2006 EIB annual meeting in Athens, at Chatham House in London, at ISS in Paris, at EPC in Brussels, at the OIIP in Vienna, at GMF in Washington, in Belgrade, at Schauspielfrankfurt in Frankfurt and at the European Institute for the Mediterranean in Barcelona.

ESI in the Caucasus

This year ESI expands its focus to the three South Caucasus republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. We will be working on the region starting this spring with a focus on building analytical capacity for empirical research in all three countries.

To reinforce our current team we invite people with analytical and research experience, excellent writing and language skills, a high level of motivation and an interest to work as part of ESI teams to submit a CV to ESI before the 15th of April 2007. Please send all correspondence – under the heading 'Caucasus' - to Robin Gosejohann.

Best regards,

Gerald Knaus