3.0 THE POLICE OPERATION IN BUMBUNA
3.1 Disproportionate Use of Force by the Police in Bumbuna
141. The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials 1990 is the human rights framework that has been developed by the international community to guide law enforcement officials to ensure that human rights, especially the right to free assembly, expression and association are not hindered by unregulated and abusive use of police powers. The Basic Principles require that the use of force by law enforcement officials be proportionate to the level of threat and be governed by clearly defined national rules and regulations concerning the use of firearms.
142. Proportionality requires that the use of force should be proportionate to the lawful objective to be achieved and to the seriousness of the offence (Osse 2007: 126). To comply with this requirement the police should be trained in alternatives to the use of force including peaceful settlement of conflicts and methods of persuasion, mediation and negotiation. They should also use non-lethal weapons.
143. Under Principles 9 and 10 of the UN Basic Principles the Police should use firearms only when in self-defense or in defense of others in a situation that presents an imminent threat to life or serious injury; prevent the perpetration of a serious crime, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and in circumstances where that person is resisting the authority of the police. Police should give warning of their intention to use firearms and give sufficient time for that warning to be heeded.
144. The Sierra Leone Police has indeed developed such rules to regulate the use of firearms and police response to public disorder situations. The Green Card (A), Exhibit HRCSL B 3(a), contains the rules of engagement for armed personnel of the Sierra Leone Police. Rule 2 cautions police officers that they should not use unnecessary force. Rule 3, further cautions them that they should only use firearms as a last resort. Rule 6 requires them to issue a warning before firing. It is important to note that Rule 6 does not talk about warning shots, but loud verbal warning. Officers can fire without warning if delay in firing could lead to death or serious injury to a person who it is their duty to protect or to themselves or a member of the Security forces. Rule 8 requires them to open fire if the persons have firearms or any other weapon, or exploding an explosive device and only if there is danger that they or a person they are protecting might be killed or seriously injured, or they have taken hostages or the persons have killed before.
145. The Yellow Card, (B), Exhibit HRCSL B (b), Rules of Engagement for nonarmed officers recommends the use of baton rounds. Rule 2 says that Baton Rounds will be deployed on police operations only with the authority of the Inspector General of Police or in his absence or unavailability, the Deputy Inspector General of Police or Senior Assistant Commissioner Operations.
146. W36 said that the rule of engagement on the use of force for the SLP is PLAN meaning that the use of force should be Proportionate, Legal, and the person using it should be Accountable and it should be Necessary. W3, the IG police had given the same response about the use of firearms in any public disorder situation. This in line with international human rights standards that are the obligations of the republic of Sierra Leone and should have been followed in the police operation in Bumbuna.
147. Yet, despite these Rules of Engagement that are compliant with the international human rights standards, the police brutalized the people of Bumbuna and used disproportionate force that led to the death of one person and severe injuries to a number of people eight (8) of whom sustained gunshot wounds. Most of these people have not recovered physically or psychologically from the mental trauma of experiencing such levels of violence.
148. A young man, W9, who suffered a gunshot wound on his head, told the Panel that he is still experiencing dizziness and “blackouts” as a consequence of the shooting. The Chair of the Panel requested a doctor who testified before the Panel and had attended to the patients during the period of the skirmishes, to attend to him and advice on what medical attention the young man needs. W20, who suffered a gunshot wound, is not able to do housework any more. She said “I cannot launder or shred leaves to cook anymore.” W9 is unable to do anything useful with himself.
149. Though the police had denied using live ammunition and had indicated that community people might have been shooting using shot guns from the bushes surrounding Bumbuna town, the Panel, with the help of a ballistics expert from the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) is able to confirm that the bullet shells tendered in evidence by witnesses were from modern police guns. In a letter to the Inquiry Secretariat dated the 24th of August 2012, the RSLAF ballistics expert identified the sources of the bullet shells as Self-Loaded Rifles (SLR), General Purpose Machine Gun, G3 Rifles, 741 Heavy Assault Rifle (HBAS), M4 Carbine, M16A2 rifle and M16A1 rifle. These clearly are not shot guns. They are military or police guns.
150. It is important to note that the Police did not tender in evidence any bullet or any other evidence to substantiate their claim on the use of shot guns by some community members.
151. The Inquiry is of the conviction that the police were responsible for the shooting of the nine (9) young people, one of whom died.
152. The police were shooting at people without warning and without good cause. They even shot people who were scared and fleeing or running away from them. “When I was shot my friends came to rescue me and they were also shot at”, said W1. This witness (W1) was shot from behind. So were W5 and W9. The person who was shot at as he tried to rescue W1 is W2.
153. In addition, it is clear that the police did not attempt to contain the demonstrating youth using less lethal weapons. Asked why he thought live bullets were used, W13 said “My men prefer to use live bullets than the rubber bullets.” W18, PC Alimamy B. Y. Koroma III told the Panel that when he heard that alive ammunition had been used he demanded answers from the police who told him that the youths were moving towards the Fuel Farm aggressively. The police had the option of cordoning off the Fuel Farm belonging to African Minerals without escalating the situation in Bumbuna. They did not exercise that option.
154. The live firing went on for a long period on the 17th. W13 told the Panel that the firing went on for a couple of hours. This information was corroborated by information gathered through FGDs in Bumbuna, personal statements from victims and information collected during the initial fact finding mission by the HRCSL in May 2012.
155. The police stated that they were under instructions to protect three (3) identified facilities that had been earmarked for burning by the youth, according to police intelligence sources. These facilities were the AML Fuel Farm (fuel depot) belonging to AML, the House of the Paramount Chief and the Police station. W36 told the Panel the three identified facilities were the reason that 200 personnel were deployed in Bumbuna. If this was the case then it is not clear why the police went into the market with firearms and fired teargas canisters and live ammunition, because market women did not pose any threat to the rest of the Bumbuna residents or even the 3 earmarked facilities.
156. Moreover, the police used live ammunition near the community radio station which is far away from the three (3) facilities. W9 told the Panel that he was shot near the radio station during the chaos that attended the attempt to arrest Rev. Bangura. This is corroborated by a police video tendered by W17, Exhibit HRCSL B 21, in which the police are seen shooting at a young man on their way from the radio station. The radio station was neither identified as one of the facilities under the threat of fire nor is it near any of the three (3) identified facilities.
157. This uncontrolled use of firearms suggests that the police are either ignorant of their own rules of engagement or they do not respect them. “Under the rules of engagement police can fire without warning orders”, W34 told the Panel. This is contrary to the rules of engagement.
158. The senior police officers who testified told the Panel that the police were facing a threat from the people who were armed with knives, petrol bombs, cutlasses, sticks and stones. These are not the kind of weapons that Rule 8 of the Green Card (Rules of Engagement A) envisaged would require the use of live ammunition. Rule 8 is very clear that the use of live ammunition would only be necessary in a situation where there is hostage taking, that the people are armed with weapons and explosives or the suspects had been involved in a killing before. The totality of the circumstances should present a serious threat to life. There was no hostage taking and the young men and women had not killed before. To the contrary, it was confirmed from the testimony of witnesses that some of the young people who sustained gunshot wounds were shot while fleeing from the police.
159. In the view of the Inquiry, the trigger activities by the workers of AML on the early morning of the 16th April 2012 and again on the morning of the 17th April 2012 did not warrant the use of live ammunition or the deployment of over 200 armed police men. The Panel was repeatedly told that the protest action by the workers of AML had been peaceful until the police intervened. The Paramount Chief, W18 told the Panel that he had recommended that the Police withdraw from the streets to calm down the situation. It is the view of this Inquiry that the presence of such a large number of police officers before any violence had taken place contributed to inflaming the tensions in Bumbuna.
160. From the testimonies of the Police, the Inquiry was unable to establish the person who gave the orders for the use of live ammunition. W36 told the Panel that the decision to use live ammunition lay with the tactical commanders who were Superintendent Samuel Benedict Vandi, W8 and Superintendent Alfred C. Dassama, W13. He also said that responsibility lies with the Commander of the OSD on the ground because it is the OSD men that carry arms. That commander was W34 who also denied giving such an order. Similarly, W8 also denied giving the order for the use of live ammunition. However, given that Superintendent Benedict Vandi, W8 was the most senior officer on the ground, he bears the greatest responsibility for the conduct of the police during the Bumbuna operation.
161. This responsibility is also shared with the IG Police. A reading of the rules of engagement leads one to conclude that the IG Police knew or ought to have known about the use of live ammunition in Bumbuna. If the use of baton rounds demands authorization from the Inspector General of Police as provided for under Rule 2 of the Yellow Card, it is logical that if live bullets were used, the Inspector General of Police knew or ought to have known that live ammunition will be used in Bumbuna. In his testimony, he said he was not aware. If indeed this is true, then the Bumbuna operation exemplifies a serious breakdown in the command structure of the SLP.
162. The police did not take responsibility for the use of live ammunition in Bumbuna. Rather than own up to the shootings, the police made allegations that community people could have been doing the firing using shot guns. W13 repeated this allegation that he had made earlier during the fact finding mission. W36, the former Assistance Inspector General of Police (AIG) in charge of the North East Region, told the Panel that some of the reports that informed his decisions were that there was firing coming from the bushes surrounding Bumbuna. In disagreement W18, the Paramount Chief told the Panel that there are no shot guns in Bumbuna. W19 told the Panel, being an ex-soldier himself, that the wounds he saw and treated were not shot gun wounds. These testimonies have been corroborated by the report of the ballistics expert who confirmed in his report that at least 9 bullet shells tendered by witnesses as evidence were from police or military guns and not shot guns.
163. In order to clear the shot gun controversy and confirm that it was the police who were responsible for the shooting in Bumbuna, the Inquiry Secretariat also wrote to several senior police officers requesting for the Incident Report that should have been prepared after the events in Bumbuna. The Inquiry Secretariat was in the hunt for the Incidence Report from the Police for two months before we finally got a report from the Director OSD, AIG T.T. Kamara which only accounted for one bullet. Another Incidence Report from General Duty Police only accounted for one bullet as well – the same bullet accounted for by the OSD report.
164. It is the view of this Inquiry that the high handed response by the police in Bumbuna was as a result of an exaggeration of the activities and intentions of striking workers leading to an overreaction by the police. The Inquiry was unable to ascertain the source of these exaggerated reports because none of the police witnesses informed the Panel who took the decision to ask for reinforcements. It is not clear who called for reinforcements to be sent in from Makeni, Mile 91 and even Freetown and the reasons given for such a request. This decision was based on an exaggeration of the threat posed by rioting youth and the protesting AML workers.
165. W34 was told by AIG Kabia that the LUC Magburaka had called for reinforcements so he should move with his men to Bumbuna on the 17th April 2012. The testimonies of witness indicate that there was no violence on the morning of the 16th. Testimony further indicates that there was no violence on the 17th April 2012 before the arrival of the truck of police officers at around 11.00 A.M. It is therefore not clear what “deterioration” of the situation had taken place to warrant the call for reinforcements. W34 said he did not ask for reinforcement from Freetown and he did not tell his bosses that he could not handle the situation. Yet he went on to say, “They asked me if I needed more men and I answered in the affirmative.”
166. W36, AIG Joseph Bai Bai Kabia told the Panel that Samuel Benedict Vandi, W8, called for reinforcements. He further elaborated that it was not just Vandi but also LUC Dassama, W13, who had been called by OC Konneh, W17, stating that the youths were gathering around the Fuel Farm. This response did not answer the question either because this response only told us that Supt. Vandi, W8, acted on information from LUC Dassama who had passed on information from OC Konneh. It therefore remains that, Superintendent Samuel Benedict Vandi, being the most senior officer on the ground should be held responsible for the decision to call for reinforcements.
167. OC ASP Konneh and LUC Dassama should be investigated further with a view to finding out their reasons for giving exaggerated information to their superiors that led to a gross overreaction to the activities of the striking workers.
168. W23, Musa
Bangura of AML told the Panel that the AML Police Liaison Officer informed them
that three (3) expatriates had been abducted, that the Guest House was under
siege and that there were threats to burn down the Fuel Farm, the Police Station
and the Paramount Chief’s house. He asked the Liaison Officer to call the
Police. He said his reaction was informed by the recent history of the country
(the country experienced 11 years of civil war). It is important to note that
the Guest House was not under siege going
169. The events of the 16th to 18th April 2012 exposed a lot of people to danger. The immediate needs of the victims were met with assistance from various people including the Tonkolili Progress Union, Ms. Marie from Mabonto, AML, the Resident Minister North, His Excellency the President and Dr. Kadi Sesay. This response was invaluable at the time of the crisis and is highly appreciated. The Inquiry only wishes to note that the compensation process was unstructured and thereby excluded many.
170. Further, the Inquiry wishes to acknowledge and commend the work of Dr. Rtd. Col. Richard Ansu Sankoh of the Davison Nicole Health Centre in Bumbuna and Ceasar Bayoh, the Community Health Officer in the Community Health Centre in Bumbuna for their gallant efforts to save lives and bring relief to the injured.
171. The Inquiry specifically wishes to comment on the welfare of police officers who may be injured in the course of duty. The two police officers who testified before the Panel, W24 and W25 had sustained severe head injuries. These are very young men who presumably have families who depend on them. The Panel sought to know whether they had received any kind of compensation just like the civilian victims and the answer was no. They however received free medical attention. It is important to note that the work the police do exposes them to danger including the possibility of incapacitation in the course of duty.
172. The Panel sought to know from the Police whether they have any form of Compensation Fund for police officers who might be injured in the course of duty. In a letter dated the 31st of July 2012 (Exhibit HRCSL B 51 (b) the Director OSD stated that the Police do not have a Compensation Fund for injured police officers. The same was stated in a letter dated 6th August 2012 by one Mrs. Elizabeth Turay on behalf of the IG Police.