Community policing and minorities in the Balkans
The concept of community policing is based on the idea of a community-oriented, professional and transparent police force, operating in close contact and mutual understanding with local communities. The aim is that the police see themselves and are perceived by society as a force at its service, not as an agency merely imposing law and order. The police must enjoy the trust of the population. The very basis of community policing is built upon adequate legislation and support of the political leadership and senior police officials. Moreover, human right education must be part of regular police training, and mechanisms of civilian control of police work have to be established.
In the context of minority communities, it is necessary to have police officers who speak the language of the community and are familiar with its culture. Training and abilities in conflict management are essential. It is of great importance to recruit a number of police officers from the different ethnic communities according to their representation in society. In addition to solving crimes, the police force in a minority community should also be gathering information on discrimination and protecting minority members against harassment and violence.
The new IHF report shows that NGOs can play an important role in supporting the development towards community policing in, for example, providing human rights training to police officers and education in minority issues. In the cases where they did this so far, experience shows that by doing so they do not have to give up their role as human rights "watch dogs" (e.g. in Albania, Bulgaria, and Croatia).
Implementation of Community Policing in the Balkans? The central role played by police forces during phases of excessive human rights violations in the Balkan countries in the past makes the transformation of these forces extremely difficult. Although many reforms are underway, daily practice shows that they still have a long way to go.
In Albania, initiatives toward community policing are very challenging in the light of the past wide-spread police brutality and the past misuse of the police forces by politicians, facts that have damaged the image of the police and ruined the basis for mutual trust between citizens and police. Corruption and a low level of professionalism are further factors, which have contributed to the poor image of the police. This has led to a low level or crime reporting on the part of the community.
The Bulgarian police still adhere to the "traditions from the past" and behave as an instrument for repression rather than a community orientated service provider. The repression is directed primary towards the weakest (in a social, cultural or educational sense) part of society because this layer of society has hardly any chance to exercise control or to demand remedy. Physical ill-treatment at the time of arrest and during interrogation is common. Roma are represented disproportionately high among the victims, and investigations into their alleged ill-treatment are rarely initiated or they are not conducted efficiently.
In Croatia, just a couple of years ago, taking bribes was an acceptable and normal part of police work. Since the January 2000 elections, the police misconduct has decreased significantly in comparison to the post-war period of the HDZ government when, for example, illegal wiretapping and misconduct towards Serbs were widespread. However, also currently police activities are still sometimes biased and misconduct particularly towards minorities occurs. A major problem is that most victims of police bias or abuse do not file a complaint.
In Macedonia, in 90% of the cases of police misconduct, which were recorded by NGOs in the past five years, the victims were members of the Albanian or Roma communities. On the other hand, the Albanian community has undermined the authority of the established institutions, particularly that of the police force. During the armed conflict in 2001, the ethnic Albanian community clearly demonstrated its animosity towards the police which, along with the military, was the main target of violence by extremists. Police officers who represent another ethnic group than the local population are neither perceived as part of the community in which they work, nor as protectors of citizens' rights and freedoms. However, it appears that the Macedonian authorities are afraid of all changes in the administration (including police reform) that lead to the decentralization of government, which in their perception contributes to the further dissolution of the state as well as to inter-ethnic mistrust. On the positive side, in the post-conflict period (in correspondence with the Framework Agreement) mixed police patrols have been set up in the crisis region.
Following the fall of the communist regime in Romania, several incidents of mob violence took place against Roma communities in rural areas. In more than 30 villages Roma houses were burned down and people were lynched. The authorities did nothing to identify the perpetrators, and the official reaction to such "social conflicts" was to state that they were "emotionally understandable." It was not acknowledged that the acts were ethnically motivated. The core of the problem was perceived to be the Roma community, not the mob or police officers who participated in the raids. Although most attacks against Roma took place in the 1990s, similar incidents are still occasionally reported.
In the past decade, national minorities in Serbia, particularly Croats, Bosniaks/Muslims and Albanians, bore the brunt of ethnically-targeted violence, notably "soft ethnic cleansing" and repression which affected negatively the relations between the majority Serb population and national and ethnic minorities. The police forces were an essential part of the machinery of repression. The political forces which came into power in the wake of 5 October 2000 stopped the former practice of systematic violations of minority rights and began to promote and protect collective rights of ethnicities. Positive steps were made in Southern Serbia, where a multiethnic police force was established. However, many problems still remain, including the fact that numerous war criminals are still at large, which is a major obstacle to building confidence between minority members and state bodies. Moreover, many officials who were part of the repressive machinery still occupy key positions in the army and the police force.
For more information, please contact:
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Joachim Frank, Paula Tscherne-Lempiäinen,Tel. +43-1-408 88 22-22
Albanian Helsinki Committee, Vasilika Hysi, Tel. +355-42.33 671
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Krassimir Kanev, Tel. +359-2-943 48 76
Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Tijana Vukoji?i?, Tel. +385-1-48 12 322
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia, Mirjana Naj?evska, Tel. +389-2-119 073
PRO EUROPA League, Istvan Haller, Tel. +402-65-250 182
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, Nataša Novakovi?, Isabela Kisi? Tel. +381-11-637 542