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 the ATT?

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 fullest ability.

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.

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