Objections to Bolivia's reservation to allow coca chewing in the UN conventions

The United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, Italy and Canada notified their objections
09 January 2013
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Sweden joined the United States and the United Kingdom in objecting to the re-accession of Bolivia to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Italy and Canada also objected, but the objection of Sweden is particularly disturbing.

Foglia di coca, la congiura degli ipocriti, versione italiana

Sweden joined the United States and the United Kingdom in objecting to the re-accession of Bolivia to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs after Bolivia had denounced the convention and asked for re-accession with a reservation that allows for the traditional age-old ancestral habit of coca chewingin the country. Italy and Canada also objected, but the objection of Sweden is particularly disturbing.

The 1961 UN Single Convention stipulates that the chewing of coca leaves should be phased out within 25 years of its coming into force end 1964. This verdict was based on a bla­tantly prejudiced report from the Commission of Enquiry on the Coca Leaf of 1950, containing no serious evidence for the ban.

In 2011 of Bolivia tried to amend the 1961 Single Convention to remove the obligation to ban the chewing of coca leaves in the country. Bolivia proposed an amendment to article 49, deleting the obligation that “coca leaf chewing must be abolished”. The article allowed countries only a temporary exemption, but coca chewing had to be phased out in any case within 25 years which expired end 1989 (the 1961 Convention entered into force in December 1964).[1] Without any objections, Bolivia’s request would have been approved auto­matically.

It was clear from the outset that the US government would object. In order to prevent standing alone, the US, supported by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), convened a group of so-called ‘friends of the con­ven­tion’ to rally against what they perceived to be an undermining of the ‘integ­rity’ of the con­vention and its guiding principles. They managed to find 18 allies to object and the amendment was blocked.

After the amendment attempt failed, Bolivia felt obliged to denounce the 1961 Single Convention and request re-accession with a reservation regarding coca chewing. This procedure, permitted by the convention, can only be blocked if one-third or more State parties object, out of the total of 184 parties to the 1961 Single Convention (in other words 62 countries need to object). As of January 3, 2012, only the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Italy and Canada have done so. Countries can notify their objection until January 10, 2013.

Hypocrisy rules

These five countries were also among the objectors to the Bolivian amendment proposal to amend the 1961 UN Single Convention to allow for the traditional practice of coca chewing. They argued the need to protect the integrity of the treaty by not allowing any amendments. The same argument they use now against Bolivia's re-accession. However, the US, the UK and Sweden were precisely the ones who proposed the first ever amendments to the 1961 UN Convention themselves – which led to the 1972 Protocol amending the 1961 Convention – at which time they argued the need for the control system to develop and improve. Hypocrisy rules: Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi.

In particular, the objection against Bolivia's re-accession by Sweden shows an utter disrespect for the indigenous rights of the people of Bolivia. While the other three countries do not object to coca chewing as such, Sweden emphasizes that “the ambition expressed in the convention is the successive prohibition also of traditional uses of drugs.” In other words, they object to the ancient old tradition of coca chewing, which is in direct contravention with the more recent (2007) UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, for instance, which promises to uphold and protect indigenous cultural practices. It also goes against Bolivia’s new 2009 Constitution, which obliges the country to protect native and ancestral coca as cultural patrimony.

Sweden uses the argument that "denunciation should in no case be used by a State Party for the sole purpose of formulating reservations to the Convention after re-accession. Such practice would constitute a misuse of the procedure and would undermine the basis of international treaty law". However, in 2002, Sweden itself denounced the Convention on the Reduction of Multiple Nationality and on Military Obligations in Cases of Multiple Nationality and then re-acceded with a reservation limiting its obligations. Once again: Hypocrisy rules.

Italy also uses invalid arguments to object, arguing that "the procedure applied by Bolivia – denunciation and rejoin with reservation of the 1961 Convention – is contrary to the principle of "good faith" under article 26 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of the Treaties, since it appears directed to avoid the limits established in article 49 and 50 of the Single Convention." But the official Commentary on the 1961 Single Convention mentions explicitly (p. 476) that: "By operation of article 50, paragraph 3, a Party may reserve the right to permit the non-medical uses as provided in article 49, paragraph 1, of the drugs mentioned therein, but also non-medical uses of other drugs, without being subject to the time limits and restrictions provided for in article 49." In other words, Bolivia has every right to do wat it does, using the right procedure.

If you wish to protest, you can write the ministries of Foreign Affairs of the objecting countries. Please do so in a respectful and polite manner …

The blog was updated to include Canada on January 5, 2013.


[1]. In 2009, the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, sent a letter to U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, asking that the ban on coca leaf chewing be removed, while main­taining the world strict controls on cocaine.