[Photo: J. Kofa Torbor, Isaac Dennis, and Momo A. Bainda at Control Arms HQ in New York.]
In an interview with Control Arms, J. Kofa Torbor of Liberians United To Expose Hidden Weapons addresses the state of Liberia since its accession and ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty and speaks of his hopes for neighbouring states to do the same in future.
CA: What has your organisation done on the ground to help secure an
implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)?
JKT: We are involved with a lot of programmes and activities and we have implemented
a lot of activities in advocating for the direct implementation of the ATT in Liberia. Our
organisation, Liberians United To Expose Hidden Weapons is the only small arms
organisation in Liberia that is advocating for it, and based on what we have done, our
government was able to sign on to the ATT. As I speak to you, it has been ratified by
our parliamentarians last year. Because of our work, our government is in full support
of the ATT and what we are concerned about now is not only signing, not only
ratification, but the implementation.
CA:How did the Ebola crisis impact your work surrounding the ATT? Did it
affect your advocating ability?
JKT: Before Ebola, we had this problem in Liberia where government officials,
parliamentarians, or policy officials would not always want to attend programmes
and activities organised by civil society. But with us, we’re consistent, we’re persistent,
making sure that we reach across – because most of the events we organise for
parliamentarians to be there, they don’t come. Government officials will not come –
they will send their people that do not understand the issue, and for us, it has been a
great, great challenge. We’re happy that we’ve reached this far – that Liberia has
signed onto the ATT and it has finally been ratified. And besides that, the Liberian
government has established a commission called The Liberian National Commission on
Small Arms. The Commission is responsible [for] making sure that the issue of arms
control is dealt with and brought under control.
CA: What are the implications of Liberia’s ratification of the ATT? Since its
ratification, what has changed on the ground?
JKT: There’s a great change on the ground as I speak to you now – though there is
crime committed in Liberia through armed robbery, because, you know, we fought for
ten years a civil war, and, up to present, there are some arms on the ground. If we can
conduct a nationwide survey to determine the prevalence of arms, our organisation
would have a work plan to deal with.
CA: How do you think other neighbouring states would benefit from ratifying
JKT: I think they would benefit. Our neighbouring countries, for example, Sierra Leone,
Guinea, [and] Ivory Coast, have worked with Liberia. The countries have fought wars –
we have cross border activities; fighters coming from Liberia going to the Ivory Coast
to fight for warring factions, fighters coming from Liberia going to the other side to
fight for other people. Liberian fighters have been used as mercenaries fighting for
different countries in the sub-region. We believe the only way that can be controlled is
with the ATT.
CA: Within those countries, what are the largest challenges towards any
potential successful ratification and implementation?
JKT: The challenge is government goodwill. What does that mean? In most instances,
government officials are not willing to support some of the treaties and conventions
that are signed by the country – that has been a problem. So when I use the word
goodwill, [I mean that if] the government is willing, then of course it can be done.
CA: Are there any specific components of the ATT that pose a unique challenge
to Liberia? Specifically, are there aspects of the treaty that make it more
difficult to implement?
JKT: I would not want to say it would be difficult, because we have fought a civil war,
and everyone in Liberia is tired with war. They’re tired to see arms proliferating in
Liberia. So, for me, implementing the ATT would be very easy. It wouldn’t be very
difficult provided it could get approval from the government. This is why civil society,
for example our institution, will make sure the government implements the ATT to its
CA: How has your involvement in the Control Arms Coalition been beneficial to
your advocacy in Liberia?
JKT: We participated in the disarmament process, we helped the United Nations
mission in Liberia collaborate with disarming the fighters, we showed that they were
demobilised, we made sure that they were resettled, and we did it because we love our
country and we want to see a conflict-free society. We have conducted lots of seminars,
lots of trainings for women. We have media, publications, a radio talk show, among
others, just to educate the people about the effects and dangers of arms.
CA: If you could address other states in relation to why they should sign onto
the ATT, what would you say?
JKT: I would encourage them to sign the ATT because, first of all, we need a peaceful
and conflict-free society. In order to do so, each country should be arms free. When we
talk about arms free, we are saying non-state actors should not possess arms. People
that have no cause of business possessing arms should not possess arms. We know
governments need to defend [their] sovereignty, and as such, security personnel should
possess arms – but even security personnel that would carry arms should not use them
to suppress a citizen, should not use their arms to abuse [others’] rights, should not use
arms in any form or manner that would make the citizen have apprehension about the
government or for a citizen to go against the government – and we have seen that.
Interview conducted 14 October at the Control Arms Secretariat in New York.