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April 15th, 2016
Cities • Justice

Building the Kosovo Police Service after NATO air strikes

In June 1999, in the wake of NATO air strikes, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1244 in which the UN assumed control of re-establishing security and the rule of law in Kosovo. One of the UN’s initiatives was to establish an effective police presence and train local recruits to staff and run their own Kosovo Police Service. Ten years later the police service contained representatives from the ethnic Albanian, Bosnian, Serb and Turkish communities and was Kosovo’s second most trusted organisation after NATO.

The initiative

On 10 June 1999, the UN Security Council issued Resolution 1244.  The UN assumed executive authority over Kosovo: “decides on the deployment in Kosovo, under United Nations auspices, of international civil and security presences, with appropriate equipment and personnel as required”. [4] This entailed, inter alia, “maintaining civil law and order, including establishing local police forces and meanwhile through the deployment of international police personnel to serve in Kosovo”.

The main objective was that “international organisations, led by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), held a mandate with two objectives: establish law and order in the short term and develop an indigenous Kosovo police

service that could help restore the rule of law”. [5]

Three phases were defined to achieve that objective:

  • “First, NATO-led forces to maintain order and ensure safety while UNMIK prepared to assume responsibility. [6]
  • Second, UNMIK would take over policing responsibilities and would also recruit, select, train and deploy the Kosovo Police Service and the Kosovo Protection Corps, an emergency response force established to complement the police.
  • Third, UNMIK would transfer policing responsibility to the Kosovo Police Service a shift that would require the creation of effective monitoring institutions.”

The challenge

In the late 1990s, the wars following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia gradually came to some kind of resolution. In Kosovo, however, there was continued fighting and this escalated in October 1997, as the Serbian security forces sought to crush the recently formed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which represented Kosovo's ethnic Albanians.

In early 1999, the Rambouillet peace talks began between the KLA and the Serbians' Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. They broke down on 18 March when the Serbs refused to sign. On 24 March, the air war began and “the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conducted air strikes for 78 days. Following this intervention, the Yugoslav forces finally disengaged from Kosovo”. [1]

This did not of itself result in peace, merely a different form of chaos. “The departure created a policing vacuum in a society that had deep ethnic divisions. Kosovo's Albanians attacked residents of Serb descent in retaliation for earlier ethnic violence. Crime and looting spread while criminal gangs asserted control in lawless parts of the territory. “ [2]

There was no security organisation in place to control the disorder. “Serb officers had vastly outnumbered Albanians in Kosovo's police service and had taken their direction from Belgrade. As many Serbs fled and others refused to cooperate with Kosovan authorities, Kosovo lost its trained police and police infrastructure.” [3] This gap could only be filled under the auspices of an international organisation.

The public impact

In the first years of the new system of civil security, crime in Kosovo was reduced, although it was not clear whether this was due more to UNMIK involvement or the Kosovo police force's own effectiveness. “UN crime data indicated that homicides, abductions and arson plummeted following the conflict and then stabilized.  Between 2000 and 2001, the number of murders dropped from 245 to 136, abductions from 190 to 165, and arson cases from 523 to 218.” [7]

In the longer term, there had been significant progress towards achieving an independent rule of law. “Ethnic Albanians, Serbs, Bosniaks and Turks serve side by side, with female officers making up fifteen per cent of the force. The police service now has nearly 7,300 officers, all of whom have completed the school's basic police training course. One seventh of them went on to attend advanced training courses and now hold positions ranging from sergeant to colonel.” [8]

This was a reasonably widely-held view. “By 2008,  the  Kosovo  police  had  become  a  professional  force,  securing  law  and  order  and developing one of the best reputations in the region.” [9]

Stakeholder engagement

There was strong support from the UN, NATO, the OSCE and the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) and other international organisations and from the Kosovars themselves, who engaged with the initiative by applying to join the new police force. “On 6 September 1999, UNMIK began to build the Kosovo Police Service, selecting 200 Kosovans from 19,500 applicants to form the first class of police cadets.” [10]

However, there was limited local involvement, particularly from ethnic Serbs. “As late as 2001, UNMIK officials drafted a three-to five-year strategy with almost no Kosovan involvement … Ethnic Serb representatives pulled out of the council altogether in October 1999, in protest of what they considered UNMIK's ineffectiveness in protecting the ethnic Serb population.” [11]

Political commitment

Politicians and leaders from the international community were heavily committed to the resolution of the war in Kosovo. This is evident from their role in the Rambouillet peace talks, NATO's air strikes in 1999, and the UN Security Council resolutions on Kosovo, culminating in Resolution 1244. The UN, operating as UNMIK, remained in Kosovo for a considerable length of time.

There was limited commitment on the Serb side, and it was some time before Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. It has yet to be recognised as a state by the UN itself.

Public confidence

It took some time for UNMIK to involve Kosovars in discussions and activities leading towards a self-sufficient administration. “In mid-1999, UNMIK did establish the Kosovo Transitional Council, consisting of Kosovans of different ethnicities and political allegiances. Even though it met on a weekly basis to discuss political developments and consult with UNMIK, the council suffered from political infighting among ethnic Albanians.” [12]

However, by 2007, the OSCE was able to quote General Major Behar Selimi from the Kosovo Police Service, who said that “‘as a result of joint efforts, the Kosovo Police Service has become a modern, multi-ethnic and democratic institution that enjoys the public's trust'”. [13] This was supported by a 2007 OSCE survey, which found the police service was behind only NATO as the second most trusted organisation in Kosovo. “Survey data collected in 2009 and 2010 identified the Kosovo Police Service as the most trusted Kosovan institution, with almost 77% of those polled saying they trusted the police ‘fully' or ‘very much'.” [14]

Clarity of objectives

The objectives were clearly stated (establishing law and order and developing an indigenous Kosovo police service that could restore the rule of law. It was also an aim of the police service to be representative of all the main ethnic groups, Bosniaks and Turks as well as ethnic Albanians and Serbs, and to be maintain gender diversity. However, the objectives were not measurable, although the outcome was (see Public impact above).

Strength of evidence

UNMIK benefited from the knowledge of two experienced police officers. “Sven Frederiksen, a Danish policeman with regional experience in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Steve Bennett, a retired US

marine officer and policeman, led the efforts. Frederiksen became the first UN police commissioner in Kosovo, and Bennett organised and oversaw the training of the Kosovo police on behalf of the OSCE mission. “

The UN initiative was able to draw on the experience of UNMIK personnel in previous training efforts in East Timor, Haiti and Bosnia:

  • “UNMIK independently established a detailed recruitment and selection process in 1999 that remained unchanged to 2011 despite its transfer to Kosovan control in 2003.” [15]
  • “In 2003, OSCE and ICITAP sponsored Community Safety Action Teams that aimed to strengthen ties between the police and the public at the local level. Bennett introduced the programme after witnessing its success in the western United States.” [16]


UNMIK faced significant problems in controlling the civil disorder and in creating a diverse police force made up of all the main ethnic groups in Kosovo. However, there was reasonable feasibility in terms of getting the right staff in UNMIK, in funding the initiative and in establishing the legal background:

  • The leaders of the initiative, Frederiksen and Bennett, had experience of policing in conflict zones. A thorough training programme was designed to ensure new recruits were able to function effectively.

  • Sufficient funding was available from the UN and other international organisation such as OSCE and NATO.
  • The initiative had legal force under international law, as it was backed by UN Security Council Resolution 1244.


The programme was managed jointly by UNMIK and OSCE, with both bodies being led by experienced officers, and both organisations were involved in the planning and implementation phases. There were, however, problems in managing the exercise:

  • “Differences in policing techniques between the classroom and the field limited the success of the rotational training.  The training school at Vushtrri was run by the OSCE, whose Kosovo contingent ... was largely from the US.  In contrast, the UN force comprised police and advisers from more than 55 countries. The UN police brought various techniques and backgrounds, which sometimes differed from techniques taught at Vushtrri, causing confusion among cadets rather than reinforcing their classroom training.” [17]
  • “In 2008, Behar Selimi ... said that the process was rushed and that the people selected did not have the requisite experience to shoulder their new responsibilities.  Riza Shillova, head of criminal investigations in 2011, echoed this sentiment, citing the appointees' lack of knowledge about low and mid-level policing functions.” [18]

Despite these problems, the UNMIK and OSCE management was sufficiently effective that the creation of the Kosovo Police Service was ultimately seen as a success for the international organisations involved.


Effective mechanisms were incorporated in the delivery, as UNMIK was responsible for monitoring the police performance and issuing non-compliance reports whenever necessary. However, after the transfer of authority to the EULEX (European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo), patrol monitoring of Kosovo police in the field became impossible due to the lack of staff.

The impact was measured and the outcome reflected a reduction in crime rates:

  • “UNMIK ... formally monitored police performance by issuing regular performance assessments from the field to both Kosovo Police Service and UNMIK police leaders. UNMIK would issue noncompliance reports in response to misconduct by Kosovan officers, and UNMIK police advisers would attempt to correct the behaviour of the offenders through additional training and mentoring.” [19]
  • It was possible to reduce the level of monitoring after the transfer of authority from UNMIK to the European Union Rule of Law (EULEX) Mission in Kosovo in December 2008.


There was good alignment between most of the stakeholders involved in the implementation of the programme.

The international stakeholders cooperated well. UNMIK independently established recruiting guidelines, while OSCE was responsible for conducting training. US and European police officers supported the programme by providing multilingual training. Funds were provided by UNMIK, OSCE and ICITAP.

The most challenging collaboration was between Meanwhile, UNMIK, OSCE and ICITAP funded innovative community policing programmes. “UNMIK transferred control of the community policing programs to the Kosovo police in 2008 with the passage of Kosovo's Law on Police. " [20]

However, there were shortcomings in involving Kosovars in the initiative:

  • “International organisations created the programs without extensive Kosovan input, and heavy reliance on donor funding raised questions about long-term sustainability.” [21]
  • Ethnic Serbs believed that the initiative did not align with their needs. “Ethnic Serb representatives pulled out of the council altogether in October 1999, in protest of what they considered UNMIK's ineffectiveness in protecting the ethnic Serb population.” [22]


Richard Bennet, Jonathan Friedman, Morgan Greene, Innovations for Successful Societies, 2012, BUILDING THE POLICE SERVICE IN A SECURITY VACUUM: INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS IN KOSOVO, 1999 - 2011, Princeton University,

RESOLUTION 1244 (1999), 10 June 1999, The UN Security Council

Kosovo's police service comes of age, Zvezdan Moravcevic and Nikola Gaon, 5 June 2007, OSCE

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