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Balkan Investigative Network (BIRN) “Law and (Dis)Order”
Remarks by Ambassador Murphy
December 18, 2023

Thank you, Denis.  Ladies and gentlemen, members of the press, and leaders of law enforcement institutions. I am pleased to take part in this event, and I extend my heartfelt thanks to the BIRN BiH team and the young activists they partnered with for their commendable work on a project that we, at the U.S. Embassy, were eager to support.  The U.S. Embassy has long been committed to supporting initiatives that foster transparency, combat corruption, and uphold the rule of law in BiH.  As such, it is an honor to join you today to hear about the outcomes of this project.

The police play a vital role in every democracy.  They are the front line of the effort to provide the rule of law without which a country’s democracy, its economy, and indeed its society break down.  The police are also the most visible arm of government for citizens.  The police are closer to the citizens than almost any other element of government bureaucracy because their core mission is to protect and serve citizens.  When the police do their job right, they provide for safe communities by responding to crime as well as official corruption and abuse.

This requires honest, capable, and well-trained police officers who adhere to both the letter and the spirit of the law, and who enjoy the trust of the communities they are asked to safeguard.  When trust between citizens and the police is high, and police officers comport themselves with integrity, communities breathe easier.  People feel safer in their homes and on the streets when the police enforce laws without fear, favor, or bias.

This project’s intention is not to vilify the police.  Its aim is to shed light on systemic issues within the police that hinder implementation of the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  This is important because of the indispensable role the police play safeguarding the country’s democracy and its communities.  I am pleased to see high-ranking representatives of the police and Ministries of Internal Affairs here today, who acknowledge the importance of addressing these challenges and demonstrating an openness to scrutiny and to improvement.  Your presence here sets an example, because accountability and integrity at the top of the chain of command are essential to combatting corruption.  And make no mistake, police impunity is a form of corruption.

What you do with the information presented here today will demonstrate to your rank-and-file officers what kind of leaders you are.

It is your actions and the example you set, not your words, that measure your commitment to your institutions, to the communities they serve, and to the citizens of this country.  What all of them need from you is recognition of your institution’s shortcomings and a plan to address them – through training, through transparency in the complaints process, and through making disciplinary procedures public.  This will send a clear and unmistakable signal that you are strong, responsible, and accountable leader.

The issues of police misconduct are not unique to Bosnia and Herzegovina or to the Western Balkan region.  Every country that is a member of the Transatlantic community of nations deals with this issue.  There are almost 18,000 police forces in the United States, which includes local police departments, county sheriff office’s, state troopers, and federal law enforcement agencies.  Somewhere in the United States, there is a police force addressing police misconduct and accountability issues every day.  Whether here or in my country, nobody can be above the law, and accountability is paramount.  This principle extends to all, whether a judge, a police officer, a bank director, or a politician.

Just as heroic as good policing and police officers, and just as vital for a democratic society are the contributions of investigative journalists and civic activists, who represent ordinary citizens’ interests by, among other things, holding the powerful to account; and exposing corruption.  Your work can be inconvenient for policy makers and government officials, but it helps keep democracy healthy.  And political leaders, public officials, and governments here in Bosnia and Herzegovina would do better to stop seeing your work as prying or as unfair, and instead to reflect on your findings and see your work a message from their constituents telling them where and how to improve.  Your dedication to advocating for the rule of law is both inspiring and essential.  Events like these underscore the importance of an active citizenry that is engaged in making government work better in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The U.S. Embassy is firmly committed to promoting the rule of law, to accountable government, and to combating corruption.  In a functioning democracy, civil society, media, and government must collaborate, as well as operate independently, to advance the interests of all citizens.  I encourage you all to persist in your work and to advocate for change despite the obstacles you may encounter.  Your efforts are integral to building a just future for Bosnia and Herzegovina and all of its citizens.

Thank you.