Police Reform and the Eastern Partnership

Next week, Lithuania will host the third Eastern Partnership Summit, bringing together high-level officials from the European Union and the Eastern European Partnership states.  The Eastern Partnership initiative (EaP) intends to strengthen the EU’s relationships with six of its Eastern neighbors, including the South Caucasus states of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. The EaP initiative may lead to the signing of Association Agreements, free trade agreements, and visa liberalization agreements between the EU and these countries, as well as providing a mechanism for the EU to “promote democracy and good governance, strengthen energy security, promote sector reform and environment protection…” The United States is a big advocate of this initiative, as Joshua Kucera details on our blog.

As part of the EaP’s goal to promote democracy and good governance, it launched the Eastern Partnership Police Cooperation Program in December 2012. This program aims to increase cooperation between the police forces of EU and EaP states to fight cross-border crime. While the EU appears hopeful that the program could address the democratic deficiencies of law enforcement and security agencies in the South Caucasus, it appears ill-equipped to do so.

To varying degrees, the law enforcement agencies in the South Caucasus all need additional reforms, as noted in a briefing published ahead of the summit by Human Rights Watch (HRW). For example, reports of torture and ill treatment by the police continue to emerge out of Armenia, and Georgia still has to increase accountability and democratic oversight of its law enforcement agencies. On multiple occasions this year, Azerbaijan’s police has been accused of using unnecessary force against demonstrators.

The Eastern Partnership Police Cooperation Program’s Action Fiche (pdf) acknowledges the link between a professional law enforcement sector and democracy, stating that the program “is designed to reflect the required reforms of the security and law enforcement sector to support progress towards deep and sustainable democracy within the European Neighbourhood region.” It further emphasizes, “Security and law enforcement sector reform – including the police – is one of the main benchmarks against which the EU will assess progress and adapt levels of support.”

However, the goals of the program appear to focus more on fostering partnership and building capacity, rather than internal police reform (pdf). The program has two components: partnership-mentoring between EU and EaP police forces and managerial and operational support to police in EaP countries. The exchanges, study tours, and trainings under the first component of the program specifically aim to increase police capacity to fight financial crimes and to improve mechanisms for intelligence and data sharing between EU and EaP police forces. The second component of the program might encourage some elements of reform, and through it the EU will try to enhance the “managerial standards” of EaP police authorities, with a focus on “ethics and corruption in the law enforcement agencies, human resources management.” This component, like the rest of the program, also focuses on police units handling transnational crimes such as organized crime, terrorism, drug-trafficking, etc., rather than the internal security forces in the EaP countries.

The Euro Eastern Partnership Police Cooperation Program is not the only mechanism for engagement between the EU and police forces in the South Caucasus. For example, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) runs policing programs in both Azerbaijan and Armenia, with the Azerbaijan program specifically intended to enhance policing techniques consistent with “OSCE human rights commitments and related international good practices.” (Unfortunately, analyses of OSCE police and border programs in Central Asia have shown little benefit to police reform in that region).

Beyond these police programs, however, the Eastern Partnership summit presents the European Union with an opportunity to push for security sector and other democratic reforms at the leadership level, as opposed to the law enforcement level. As Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Director stated, “It’s obvious that the leaders travel to Vilnius with varied agendas, ambitions, and objectives, but a shared commitment to human rights should not be negotiable.”

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