VII. COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY
Many of the over one hundred victims and witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch described the presence of senior officers at the scene of serious violations and apparently in command of operations in which serious violations had taken place, including the gunning down of protesters in the street; torture, including sexual assault, of detainees within gendarme bases and police stations; and the rounding up and killing of RDR protestors, foreigners, and northerners or Muslims. While it is difficult to ascertain the exact chain of command and level of seniority of officers within the state security corps involved in the perpetration of serious human rights violations, command responsibility, as defined in international law, nevertheless lay clearly with the high command of the police, the gendarmerie and the Presidential guard.
In several cases documented by Human Rights Watch, victims described officers being directly involved in or ordering the perpetration of abuses, such as the sexual abuse of women by some seven officers within the National Police Academy and the torture in December of RDR detainees by gendarme officers within the national television station. In these cases, culpability by the officers or direct command responsibility of superior officers over their subordinates can be easily assumed. The commanding officer from the Gendarme Camp of Koumassi was the only commander identified who made a concerted effort to ensure the rights of detainees were respected, which he did particularly in December.
Numerous other victims and witnesses confirmed indirect command responsibility. Scores of detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch described the presence of people whom they assumed were senior if not commanding officers in the police, gendarme and military installations in which serious abuses including torture and, in the case of the Gendarme Camp of Abobo, extrajudicial execution, were documented. In all of these installations, detainees were being held and mistreated in open areas. While, according to victims, few officers participated in the violations, they did nothing to stop them. In these cases, in which commanders witnessed the crimes or where the offenses were so numerous or notorious that a reasonable person could come to no other conclusion then that the officer must have known of their commission, indirect command responsibility could clearly be established.
Commanders are required to apply particular care when leading forces with the capacity to use lethal force. The failure of a superior to take appropriate measures to control and thereby prevent his subordinates from committing atrocities is another element of showing command responsibility. The failure to prevent the numerous atrocities committed by gendarmes in both October and December, apparently in retaliation for the deaths of other gendarmes, is a clear example of this.
Yet another form of indirect command responsibility is when an officer should have known of the offenses, but displayed such serious negligence as to constitute willful and wanton disregard of the possible consequences. Officers who stood by while subordinates committed serious violations would be equally culpable for the offences. Similarly a superior would be culpable if he failed to punish the subordinate in question. Lastly, subordinates may not be absolved of responsibility for having obeyed illegal orders by their commanders to commit atrocities.
The victims also described numerous incidents of insubordination by police and gendarmes during which low ranking personnel argued, even physically fought, with officers over how to treat and whether or not to kill detainees. The incidents occurred on the street at the time of detention and within police and gendarme bases. They described subordinates outright ignoring the orders of their officers or waiting until they had departed before continuing with practices the officers had ordered them to stop. In all of these cases superior officers were attempting to intervene to stop abuses by their subordinates.
Some government officials and diplomats interviewed by Human Rights Watch blamed the violence by state security forces in October on the slightly more than twenty-four-hour power vacuum between the flight of General Guei, on the afternoon of October 25, 2000, and the swearing in of Laurent Gbagbo as president, on the evening of October 26, 2000. It was in fact during this twenty-four hour period that the most serious abuses, including the killing of the fifty-seven youths in the Charnier de Yopougon took place. At the same time there were serious abuses both before and afterward, indicating both that senior commanders exerted some control over the forces involved, and that they must share in responsibility for what happened.
A detainee being held within the Agban Gendarme Base in October described the confused line of command and the disrespect shown by lower ranking gendarmes towards their commanding officer.112
I couldn't tell who was in charge. Most of those beating us were corporals or sergeants. All but one of them participated in the beatings. They were all walking around clobbering us, each gendarme beating us as he pleased. No one seemed to be giving orders. It was all crazy. Sometimes it seemed like they were drunk or on drugs. At one point it was like a few of them got the idea to burn us so they found clothes and shoes with plastic, set it on fire and started burning us. And when the gendarmes were tired they just sat down, took a rest and someone else took their place.
Once after a shift change, one of the new gendarmes-he might have been an officer because he had a cell-phone and seemed to throw his weight around-said, `it's enough now. Let's stop it. Let these people alone now.' But another gendarme started arguing with him and saying half to the gendarme and half to us, `we're going to kill all of them. They're all Dioulas, all foreigners, you're the ones who want to set Côte d'Ivoire on fire.' And then they started physically pushing and hitting and fighting each other until the one trying to stop the beatings took out a pistol and threatened the other one to follow his order, and then they left us alone.
In contrast, an RDR supporter held within first the Agban Gendarme Camp and later in the Camp Commando of Koumassi, described the difference between the two camps, and the effort made by the commander of Koumassi to exert his authority to ensure the protection of the detainees.113
In Agban we were severely beaten by ten or so gendarmes. They beat us until nearly all of us were bleeding. Then after the ICRC came, they decided to move l00 or so of us to Koumassi because it was too crowded at Agban.
After arriving at Koumassi we were taken in to the gymnasium where three gendarmes started beating us, mostly with belts. But after about five or ten minutes of this, a big man came and said, `leave them alone, don't ever beat or disturb them.' He ordered those beating us to leave and as they did we could hear them whispering that they'd come back anyway. Then the big man introduced himself as the commander and told us water was available for anyone wanting to take a bath. I observed that soldiers in this camp were much more disciplined than in Agban.
Then the next morning, at around 6:00-7:00 a.m., two of the same three who'd beat us the night before came back, as promised, to have a go at us. When several of us shouted from the pain, they yelled, `shut your mouth.' We guessed it was because they didn't want the commander to hear them. But he did and when he arrived a few minutes later, he yelled at them and said `I told you these people are not to be beaten, leave now.' And from that day on we were left alone. The commander also gave us food and allowed our parents to send food to us. He always tried to comfort us by telling us that we'd soon be freed and that nothing would happen to us. He was very good to us, especially after Agban.
Two cousins who were among five Burkinabés captured from their home in Abobo on December 5, 2000, taken to a cemetery and threatened with death. They described a ten-minute argument over whether or not to kill them among the thirteen policemen conducting the operation.114
After arresting us they then drove us in a regular civilian minibus to the cemetery behind Abobo. Inside the minibus I counted thirteen police officers, including the driver. There was one in an African print shirt and with a walkie-talkie. I think he might have been the chief but I'm not sure. At the cemetery they told us to get down from the car and start walking. Some distance away we saw a big hole and one of them said, `no one's around; we'll kill you, put you in there [the hole] and no one will ever know.' Then some of the others started saying we shouldn't be killed.
They spent about ten minutes arguing, really arguing, over whether or not to kill us. During the yelling they said things thing, `you Burkinabé...you came here to look for a little money and now you want to rule us.' One of them said they should bring us to their boss at the HQ `so the police will know that we did our job.' Finally the one in civilian dress insisted that we not be killed, saying, "look, you're not going to kill these people." And the others who outnumbered the ones, who wanted to kill us, agreed and led us back to the minibus.
In December, the decision by the government to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross into the police stations and gendarme bases was clearly accompanied by a high level decision to stop these forces torturing the detainees. A Dioula taxi driver who'd been dragged out of his house and later detained within the National Police Academy in December described this apparent change of policy:115
All the ones doing the beating were students. On several occasions when the yells and cries were too loud, an official would come into the room and tell the cadets to take it easy. But they always started in again after the officials had left the room.
Early Wednesday morning [December 6], between 7-8:00 a.m., the director of the Academy addressed us in a group and said that we should no longer be beaten. He addressed himself to the police on duty and told them that when the next crew comes they should also be informed not to beat us. Later that day the white Red Cross people talked with all of us and asked for the phone numbers of our family so they could tell them where we were. Then on Thursday the Ivorian Red Cross came to treat our injuries.
On Thursday or Friday a big man-I think he was the overall head of police-came and asked the cadets why there were so many wounded. The cadets told them that when we'd arrived at the Academy we were already injured.
Two RDR supporters held within the Agban Gendarme Camp; the first in October and the second in December, described what appeared to be attempts to torture or kill them that were only coincidentally thwarted when senior officers happened on the scene.
The first described his experience:
At around 5:00 a.m. on Friday, October 27, 2000, two gendarmes came, unlocked the doors and told us all to come out of our cells and into the yard. As we were coming out of our cells-I was towards the back of mine and stood behind by the door-they chose five people totally at random and they said they were going to kill them. We started praying among ourselves so that they wouldn't be killed. Then about ten minutes later we saw the two gendarmes coming back with the men. Later they [the five] told me that as they were walking away one of the officers came out of his office and yelled, `where are you going with these people,' and one of the two gendarmes answered, "I'm going to show them something." But the officer refused and ordered him to bring the youths back to the cells, which they did, complaining.116
The testimony of the second witness described a similar experience:
On Friday, December 8 at around 1:00 p.m., a gendarme with two V's [a sergeant] called me and nine others and told us to get into a truck. Most of us were bleeding and seriously wounded from the beatings. There were eight gendarmes on the truck, the most senior with two V's. We headed north and on the way one of them said we were going to be killed and dumped, just like what happened to those found in the Charnier de Yopougon. Around Williamsville we were stopped by a Mercedes, and a gendarme in uniform with four or five bars and a radio got out of the car. He must've been a big man because they all saluted him. Then the officer started screaming at the ones who'd taken us saying, `Are you crazy? Where are you taking them? Don't you idiots know the Red Cross has already registered them and you're going to kill them?' Then they took us back to Agban.117
112 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 14, 2001.
113 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 25, 2001.
114 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, February 7, 2001.
115 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, February 7, 2001.
116 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, November 14, 2000.
117 Human Rights Watch interview, Abidjan, February 3, 2001.