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.
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.
In 2009, the Bolivian government requested that the United Nations amend the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The proposed amendment would remove the unjustified ban on coca leaf chewing while maintaining the strict global control system for coca cultivation and cocaine. The 18-month period to contest Bolivia’s requested amendment ends January 31, 2011. Several countries, including the United States, Colombia, the Russian Federation, Japan, France, the UK, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Denmark, are considering submitting formal objections to the Secretary General. The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) calls on these governments to think again. The continuation of the ban clearly conflicts with official multilateral government declarations, including the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
On 29 June 2011, the Bolivian government denounced the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as amended by the 1972 Protocol, indicating its intention to re-accede with a reservation allowing for the traditional use of the coca leaf. This decision was triggered by Bolivia’s need to balance its obligations under the international drug control system with its constitutional and other international legal commitments. The move follows the rejection of Bolivia’s proposal to amend the Single Convention by deleting the obligation to abolish coca leaf chewing (Article 49) earlier this year.
In 2009, the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales Ayma, sent a letter to the General Secretary of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, in which the Government of Bolivia proposed to amend article 49 paragraphs 1 c) and 2 e) of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. From Bolivia´s point of view, the international community holds in its hands a historic opportunity to correct a misconception regarding coca leaf chewing by eliminating both paragraphs of the Single Convention.
According to the government of Bolivia, the only three countries that did file a formal objection to the amendment of Bolivia to abolish the ban on coca leaf chewing in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, withdrew their objections.
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Transnational Institute (TNI) have learned that the United States is moving to oppose, as soon as this week, Bolivia’s formal request to remove the obligation to ban the chewing of coca leaves— an indigenous practice dating back more than 2,000 years. TNI and WOLA strongly encourage countries to support Bolivia’s proposal, which is a legitimate request based on scientific evidence and respect for cultural and indigenous rights.
Spain will not put forward any objection to the Bolivian proposal to remove the obligation to abolish coca chewing from the 1961 UN Single Convention on drugs. Foreign Minister Trinidad Jiménez said that “Spain has from the very beginning shown its understanding for Bolivia's position” and has “demonstrated this in various fora at European and international level.” Other European countries, such as France, the UK, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and Denmark, are considering submitting formal objections. Because Spain will not object and several other EU countries tend more to the Spanish position, a common European Union position will not be possible. Read the press release of Bolivian embassy in Madrid.
The United States will file a formal objection Wednesday to Bolivia's proposal to end the ban on coca leaf-chewing specified by a half-century-old U.N. treaty, according to a senior U.S. government official. "We hope that a number of other countries will file as well," the official told The Associated Press on Tuesday. He spoke on condition he not be further identified, citing the topic's political sensitivity.
Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca is on a European tour in a bid to drum up support for taking coca off a UN treaty on banned drugs. Spanish foreign minister Trinidad Jimenez told Mr Choquehuanca in Madrid that she "understood" Bolivia's demand and would try to mediate with other European countries thought to be considering an objection. Spain has already given its support to the Bolivian campaign. The US sent a letter to the United Nations saying it was opposed to the move.
Bolivia and the US set for more battles over the coca leaf as Evo Morales attempts to overturn legality of the indigenous plant. US diplomats are due to file a formal objection to Bolivia's attempt to amend a half-century-old UN ban, claiming it would promote the raw ingredient for cocaine and undermine the "war on drugs".
The United States’ State Department’s website recommends coca tea for altitude sickness, and its La Paz embassy has been known to serve it to visitors. The UN’s declaration on indigenous peoples, which the United States endorsed last month, guarantees the protection of “cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions”.
The constraint on fresh thinking was on shameful display this week. A UN convention, reaffirmed in 2009, imposes a blanket prohibition on drugs. This includes even the traditional use of coca leaves by Andean Indians for chewing and tea. This ban has never been enforced and in 2009 Bolivia asked the UN to lift it—though not restrictions on coca cultivation for cocaine. With a deadline of the end of this month, America has lodged an objection and Britain looks poised to follow (see article). Traditional uses of coca are not addictive and are as much part of Andean culture as a cuppa is in Britain or beer in Texas. One reason for objecting seems to be that approval might open up a wider debate about legalising drugs.
Bolivians chewed coca leaves in demonstrations around the country Wednesday to push for a change in a 1961 UN convention to remove a ban on a practice that has been part of indigenous cultures here for millennia. Protesters gathered outside the US embassy in La Paz to chew the leaf as part of a day of demonstrations around the country celebrating the coca plant and demanding that the UN Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs be amended.
Bolivia will ask the United Nations to organize a conference on coca leaf-chewing if the U.S., Britain and Sweden don't withdraw their objections to the country's efforts to drop the ban on the age-old practice in an international treaty, Bolivia's U.N. ambassador said Friday.
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the Andean Information Network (AIN), and more than 200 other concerned organizations and individuals yesterday sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling for the Obama administration to immediately withdraw its objection to Bolivia’s proposed amendment to the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
Bolivia would continue its campaign to remove from a United Nations convention a ban on coca leaf chewing and take its case to the Economic and Social Council, if necessary, Pablo Solón, the country’s Permanent Representative said today at a Headquarters press conference.