Vetting judges, police and prosecutors in Bosnia and Herzegovina


Vetting to ensure minimum standards of integrity in public service is widely recognised as an important SSR measure. Between 1999 and 2002, the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH) vetted all law enforcement personnel in the country. Of the total of 23 751 personnel registered, 16 803 were provisionally authorised to exercise police powers (those not authorised were mainly administrative support personnel working at local ministries of the interior); of those, 15 786 were certified as police officers. Three High Judicial and Prosecutorial Councils (HJPC), made up of international and national personnel, restructured the court system and reappointed all judges and prosecutors between 2002 and 2004. Almost 1 000 posts were declared vacant and there was open competition to fill them.

Entry point

The Dayton Agreement stipulated that police offi cers and civil servants responsible for serious violations of minority rights should face “prosecution, dismissal or transfer”. The presence of the UN Mission facilitated the process of vetting.

Lessons learned

Review or reappointment? UNMIBH applied a review model to vet the police: serving police officers were screened to determine their suitability for continued service. Shortcomings in this process were caused by a failure to ensure basic standards of due process. The HJPC, on the other hand, applied a reappointment model to vet judges and prosecutors: all posts were declared vacant and serving judges and prosecutors also had to apply. Applicants in the reappointment process had no right to a hearing or to judicial appeal if they were not selected and the burden of proof was shifted onto them. These procedural simplifications streamline a vetting process significantly and provide a better opportunity for broader SSR measures. A reappointment process, however, represents a risk of arbitrary interference in otherwise independently operating sectors. It should therefore only be established when the institution is fundamentally dysfunctional; it should be implemented by an independent body that follows fair procedures; and it should be put in place as early as possible to avoid protracted periods of legal uncertainty.

Linking vetting to other reforms — Both the UNMIBH and HJPC processes pursued broader SSR goals. In particular, both led to a reduction in the overall personnel size and an increased representation of minorities. Vetting will normally have to be accompanied by other SSR measures to ensure an effective reform process.

The role of international organisations — Vetting processes under domestic leadership preclude resentment against external imposition and ensure the application of local know-how. Vetting processes are, however, often contested as they affect access to power, and considerable international involvement might be required. When an internationalised process is established, every effort should be made to broadly involve domestic actors and to guarantee a seamless changeover to regular domestic procedures. In this regard, the shortcomings of the UNMIBH process were significant. The HJPC process, on the other hand, was integrated into the domestic legal system and ensured a smooth transfer to a domestic follow-on mechanism.


The UNMIBH police review process resulted in the removal of personnel who did not meet established criteria, a reduction in overall personnel numbers, and an improvement in the ethnic and gender composition of the police. The HJPC reappointment process resulted in the closure of several courts, about 30% of the incumbent applicants not being reappointed, and the pre-war ethnic balance being largely restored. At the completion of the reappointment process, the HJPC turned into a permanent
appointment and disciplinary body


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