Vetting public employees in transitional societies has received less research attention than prosecutions, truth telling and reparations of individuals who have perpetrated human rights abuses under authoritarian regimes or in conflicts. This paper reports results of case studies in countries that have conducted post-conflict/post-authoritarian vetting of public servants. Vetting is more than technical personnel reform; it can help institute new norms for service in public institutions.
The term vetting is defined as a formal process to identify and remove from office individuals responsible for abuses, especially from police, prison, army and judicial institutions. Vetting can be confused with lustration and purging. Lustration is systematic screening of candidates for public office and possible barring or removal from office. Purges target people for membership in or affiliation with a group, rather than for individual responsibility for human rights violations.
This report presents results of case studies of vetting processes in Argentina, El Salvador, Greece, South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and East Germany.
The following are the basic decisions of the vetting process:
- Targets: While some vetting processes include civil service, constitutional bodies, the national bank, state media and academic institutions, vetting generally focus on security and judicial sector human rights abuses.
- Criteria : In Eastern Europe, vetting was conducted of non-violent actions that constituted public trust violations. In Greece, vetting was of people who had actively supported or identified with the junta.
- Sanctions: Positive vetting results can lead not only to removal from office, but to less extreme measures, such as forced retirement, transfer to insignificant posts, annulment of promotion or temporary suspension of duty.
- Design of Vetting Processes: Some processes consist of one vetting body for all institutions; others vet one sector or institution only. Regardless of design, equitable vetting processes should be legitimate, objective, safeguard human rights, governed by the rule of law and based on individual responsibility.
- Scope: Size depends on the number of positions to be screened and on the availability and reliability of information. If the vetting process restricts its criteria for exclusion to individual behaviour, percentages of personnel dismissed tend to be small.
- Timing and duration: There is wide variation in the duration of processes. In Greece, the process lasted only 10 months; in Poland, the process still continues after six years.
- Rationale for vetting: Vetting occurs to punish perpetrators and transform institutions in order to safeguard democratic transition and prevent recurrence of human rights abuses.
- Coherence: Vetting can be a stand-alone measure or part of a programme of institutional reform to change an organisation’s structure and mandate. In East Germany, vetting was the first step in a large-scale process of institutional reform; in South Africa, institutional reform was only a small part of post-apartheid institutional reform, concerned with human rights violations and cleansing the public sector of people with certain backgrounds.
- Transitional context: In post-authoritarian societies, vetting is more likely to involve evidence of non-violent forms of collaboration with the former regime; post-conflict societies tend toward screening for violent, gross human rights violations. In some cases, political considerations limit the support of vetting. South Africa chose not to conduct a comprehensive vetting process, as part of a larger political compromise that ended years of conflict, authoritarianism and apartheid.
While the above is a summary of the Introduction chapter only, the rest of Justice as Prevention: Vetting Public Employees in Transitional Societies, includes case studies of Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, El Salvador, the former German Democratic Republic, Greece, Hungary, Poland, and South Africa, as well as chapters on cross-cutting themes such as due process, information management, and intersections with other institutional reforms. In its annex, the book provides a practical set of guidelines for those who take up this crucial and challenging work.