Lifting the ban on coca chewing

Bolivia’s proposal to amend the 1961 Single Convention
10 March 2011

This briefing paper analyses the reasons behind Bolivia’s proposal to remove from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs the obligation to abolish the practice of coca chewing and the opposing arguments that have been brought forward.

January 31 marked the close of the 18-month period during which countries could submit objections to Bolivia’s proposal to remove from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs the obligation to abolish the practice of coca chewing.

A total of eighteen countries formally notified the UN Secretary General that they could not accept the proposed amendment: the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Canada, Denmark, Germany, the Russian Federation, Japan, Singapore, Slovakia, Estonia, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Latvia, Malaysia, Mexico and Ukraine.

The U.S. convened a group of ‘friends of the convention’ to rally against what they perceived to be an undermining of the ‘integrity’ of the treaty and its guiding principle to limit the trade and use of narcotic drugs exclusively to medical and scientific purposes. The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC or the Council) will have to decide how to proceed, most likely during its substantive session in Geneva this July.

This briefing paper analyses the reasons behind the proposed amendment and the opposing arguments that have been brought forward, and outlines the various options to be considered as the fate of Bolivia’s proposal is determined. Simply rejecting the amendment will not make the issue disappear.

Key Points

  • The ban on coca chewing is a violation of indigenous rights and needs to be lifted
  • The condemnation of coca leaf and traditional use by the 1961 Single Convention conflicts with the principles and provisions of later treaties and declarations
  • The whole of South America expressed support for Bolivia’s amendment proposal
  • The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, in its advisory capacity to ECOSOC, recommends that Member States support this initiative
  • The opposing arguments brought forward in the eighteen objections to Bolivia’s proposal are dubious and contradictory
  • Rejecting the amendment will not make the issue disappear
  • A constructive dialogue is required to resolve the legal ambiguities one way or another
  • A WHO expert review of coca leaf is long overdue

Pages: 8

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