Bolivia's government has informed the United Nations it is renouncing the world body's anti-drug convention because it classifies coca leaf as an illegal drug, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday. Bolivia's decision comes after a proposal by President Evo Morales to remove language obliging countries that have signed the convention to ban the chewing of coca leaves was rejected following U.S. objections.
The Bolivian government formally notified the UN Secretary General of its withdrawal from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (as amended by the 1972 Protocol) yesterday. The withdrawal will enter into effect on 1 January 2012. At that time, Bolivia will re-accede to the Convention with a reservation on the coca leaf and its traditional uses.
Bolivia’s denunciation of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs is not just about one treaty. It is about finding an appropriate balance between multiple concurrent and conflicting international legal obligations. When international treaties ratified by or acceded to by Bolivia and relevant jurisprudence are taken into account, it is clear that Bolivia would find itself in breach of multiple international agreements were it to fully implement the 1961 Single Convention as written. A reservation on the 1961 Single Convention is the most reasonable and proportionate way to address this conflict.
Bolivia initially proposed an amendment to article 49, deleting the therein contained 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). By the closure of the January 31, 2011, deadline to file objections to the Bolivian amendment, 18 objections were submitted (though the one from Ukraine seemingly did not arrive in time).
TNI has been closely involved with the Global Commission on Drug Policy which presented its report in New York on June 2. Some years ago we published a report, entitled Cracks in the Vienna Consensus in which we argued that cracks were appearing in the supposedly universal model under the UN treaty system. In reality, the global system is based on a highly fragile consensus of Vienna, where the UN drug control system is headquartered, and the painstaking negotiations every year to keep up the appearance of unity have become the symbol of paralysis and frustration.
Global commissions made up of eminent former policymakers can normally be counted upon to tell international leaders what they want to hear. But the Global Commission on Drug Policy – which has called on the services of distinguished names such Paul Volcker, Kofi Annan, Mario Vargas Llosa, Javier Solana and half a dozen former national politicians – has done something very different. Instead of telling world leaders what they want to hear, the commission has, instead, told them the truth.
Narcotics liberalisation was once the cause of freethinkers and hippies. Now a more sober bunch is criticising the “war on drugs”. On June 2nd the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a group including ex-presidents of Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Switzerland; the prime minister of Greece; a former secretary-general of the United Nations; and, from America, an ex-secretary of state and ex-chairman of the Federal Reserve, called for the decriminalisation of all drug taking, and for experiments in the legal regulation of the sale of drugs, starting with cannabis.
The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.