Weaknesses in the United Nations drug control system have often been identified, related to the functioning of the key organs – the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) –, related to collaboration with the wider UN system – the World Health Organistaion (WHO), UNAIDS, UN Development Programme (UNDP), etc. – and related to the outdated character of several treaty provisions.
We don’t ban beer and spirits because some folk abuse alcohol. Yet as part of its bid to stamp out illicit cocaine consumption, the United Nations drug watchdog is telling millions of indigenous South Americans to ditch their millennia-old coca-chewing and coca tea-making traditions — and calling on their governments to criminalize the activities.
Read here the full text of the controversial statements on coca leaf included in this year's Annual Report of the INCB. Some highlights:
> "The Board calls upon the Governments of Bolivia and Peru to initiate action without delay with a view to eliminating uses of coca leaf, including coca leaf chewing" and "each party to the Convention should establish as a criminal offence, when committed intentionally, the possession and purchase of coca leaf for personalconsumption". > "The Board again calls on the Governments of Bolivia and Peru to consider amending their national legislation so as to abolish or prohibit activities that are contrary to the 1961 Convention, such as coca leaf chewing and the manufacture of mate de coca (coca tea)".
At the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in March 2008 in Vienna three resolutions on cannabis were tabled. They were all clearly against 'lenient policies' in some countries depenalising or decriminalizing the use of cannabis. One of the resolutions called for the criminalization of drug abuse that would have significantly expanded the UN drug conventions.
The 2007 INCB Annual Report shows some signs of a more balanced approach by the INCB to the policy dilemmas around proportionality of sentences and harm reduction. While this is welcome, the Board still falls a long way short of what is necessary for it to play a positive and objective role in helping governments to find the right balance between their drug control obligations, and wider policy objectives related to social development, public health, and human rights protections. On the issue of the coca leaf especially, the INCB shows complete intransigence towards the issue of indigenous uses in the Andean region.
On thursday 28 February 2008 the Dutch Parliamentary Justice Commission devoted its debate to the drugs UNGASS review. Martin Jelsma was invited as one of the experts to share with the commission TNI's views on the importance of the review process. In his contribution he highlights the opportunity to use the 2008/9 period to achieve a breakthrough on harm reduction acceptance at the UN level, to evaluate the performance of UN agencies like UNODC and the INCB, and to open the door for a revision of the UN drug control treaty system. only available in Dutch
"They will have to kill us to make us stop planting coca," Bolivian coca grower Luis Mamani told IPS in response to a call from the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) to prohibit traditional uses of the plant like coca leaf chewing. "It is a historic error to try to ban coca. We are not going to allow it," Mamani vehemently stated.
The Bolivian delegation was the first to issue what it called an "energetic protest" against the INCB's recommendations during the agency's annual meeting this week in Vienna. It also put forward a proposal to remove coca from the U.N.'s narcotics list. That's not likely to happen. The big question is whether the U.N. will adopt the INCB proposal — which would essentially leave Bolivia and Peru in breach of international law if they continue to allow coca's non-narcotic use and commercialization. That in turn could result in the U.N. calling for commercial or other embargoes against them.
Conflicting views and policies within the UN system on harm reduction have become a major concern. Consistency in messages is crucial especially where it concerns joint global programmes such as the efforts to slow down the HIV/AIDS epidemic; efforts in which harm reduction practices like needle exchange and substitution treatment play a pivotal role.
The backbone of the United Nations drug control system consists of three UN Drug Conventions. The prohibition of potentially harmful substances has its origin in the desire to protect human well-being. However, the way in which the global regime was set up decades ago and the escalation of repression it has brought about since, has been an historical mistake increasing rather than diminishing the problems. There is no point now in dreaming about how the world might have looked without it, or deluding ourselves that all the problems could be solved by scrapping the conventions. The challenge is to create the political space which would allow a reform process to move ahead. A process guided by pragmatism, open-mindedness and evaluation of practices on the basis of costs and benefits; providing leeway for experimentation and freedom to challenge the wisdom of the existing conventions.
With a “Causachun coca! (quechua), viva la coca. Long life to coca leaf!” the vice -minister of Foreign Affairs of Bolivia ended his intervention on Monday at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). Vice-minister Hugo Fernandez protested against the request of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) to eliminate the traditional use of coca, such as coca chewing and coca tea. At the same time a vigil to defend the coca leaf took place in La Paz.
Foreign Affairs minister David Choquehuanca announced that Bolivia is going to ask for a rectification of the 2007 Annual Report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) that called for the abolition of coca chewing and coca tea.
Where legal ambiguities and disagreement persist around cannabis policies, the INCB continues to make narrow legal interpretations of what is allowed under the UN drug conventions and repeatedly expresses its strong objection to any move towards decriminalization of possession for personal use, lowering law enforcement priorities for cannabis or reclassification.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) released a new short film in their excellent series on the proceedings of the 2008 Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). In "Coca Leaf: The Heritage of the Andes" Felipe Cáceres, the Vice Minister of Social Defence of Bolivia is interviewed. He explains the traditional use of the coca leaf and rejects the controversial statements of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) in its 2007 annual report calling on the Bolivian and Peruvian governments to eliminate the use of coca leaf contrary to the 1961 Single Convention and to abolish coca chewing and coca tea.
The review of the objectives and action plans agreed at the 1998 UNGASS on Drugs has reached a critical stage. Following the thematic debate at the 2008 Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and the five expert working groups held in Vienna over the summer, the attention now moves to the political process of negotiating the text of a political declaration to be agreed at the high level meeting in March 2009.
This briefing paper brings together material and analysis from a number of recent reports that raise questions about the role and functioning of the INCB. The IDPC analysis is that the Board mixes a rigid and overzealous approach to some aspects of its mandate, while showing a selective reticence in others. These inconsistencies do not arise automatically from the structure or role of the Board, but from the operational and policy decisions of its officers and members.
When the INCB Annual Report for 2007 – under embargo until March 5 – started to circulate about a month ago, I was in complete shock after reading the worst ever paragraphs on coca written in UN history for several decades. The position taken by the Board now can be characterized by no more talk about the need to solve 'long-standing ambiguities in the conventions', not a shred of sympathy anymore for traditional customs or rights of indigenous peoples, no trace of cultural sensitivity at all, an all-out attack against coca chewing, drinking of coca tea or any other uses of coca in its natural form in the Andean region and the northern parts of Argentina and Chile.
In a new report released in February 2008 by the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA), the INCB comes in for some heavy criticism for being overly secretive, closed to external dialogue with civil society, and out of kilter with similar agencies in other UN programmes. IHRA also debunks the INCB’s defence that it is ‘unique in international relations’.