The UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which monitors implementation of the global drug treaties, has trained its fire on Bolivia, this time accusing the country of threatening the integrity of the entire international drug control regime by defending traditional uses of the coca leaf.
The response to the Board’s Annual Report for 2011 is organised under 5 inter-related headings: issues surrounding the Board’s homage to the Hague Opium Convention; the flaws within its thematic chapter on ‘social cohesion, social disorganization and illegal drugs’; the INCB’s hostility towards the endeavours of Bolivia to adjust its position towards the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and coca; the continuation of mission creep and a proclivity of the Board to operate beyond its mandate and the reoccurrence of selective reticence, specifically the lack of comment on issues relating to human rights and harm reduction.
This note provides an overview of human rights and international law concerns raised by the 2011 Annual Report of the International Narcotics Control Board. These include questionable legal reasoning by the Board; the absence of broader human rights norms; problematic statements on specific issues; unqualified comments and support for policies despite human rights risks; and stigmatising language unbecoming a UN entity. These are patterns that are evident in previous Annual Reports.
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.
The terms used in the preface to the 2011 INCB annual report leave no doubt as to the illness afflicting this UN body: a (deep) regret  is running through its old veins. Yet again, its poison is directed at Bolivia, that small country which dares to challenge and stretch what is allegedly firm and static, and all in the name of an old indigenous habit. This saga must come to a close sometime soon, both parties must have thought, but as yet no happy ending is in sight.
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) regrets the decision by the Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to denounce the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol. On 29 June 2011, in an unprecedented step, the Government of Bolivia denounced the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol, to which the State of Bolivia had previously acceded. The Government also announced its intention to re-accede to this Convention but with a reservation regarding specific treaty provisions.
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.
The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, yesterday asked inspectors of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) of the United Nations to support his petition to decriminalize coca leaf chewing or "akulliku" but acknowledged that he failed to convince everyone. The Board pointed out this year that Bolivia “addresses the coca-chewing issue in a manner that is not in line with that country’s obligations under the international drug control treaties.”
The United States must not turn a blind eye to the recreational use of cannabis in states that liberalize drug laws, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said, urging the country to live up to its treaty commitments. Raymond Yans, president of the INCB, said assurances from the U.S. government in December that growing, selling or possessing the drug remained illegal under federal law were "good, but insufficient".
If you actually read the treaties, while they do set firm limitations on the legal, "non-medical" or "non-scientific" sale of schedule drugs — limits that Uruguay, Colorado and Washington ignored when legalizing cannabis — they don’t otherwise obligate countries to penalize drug use. Even the 1988 convention, the harshest of the three, which instructs countries to criminalize use, still provides an out for states, allowing such laws only as they are "subject to its constitutional principles and the basic concepts of its legal system." This loophole has been used by the Dutch to argue legally for their coffee shops.
A diplomatic cable shows U.S. officials opposed the Insite supervised injection site in Vancouver and wanted the federal and municipal governments to shut it down. The reference to Vancouver-based Insite is found in a U.S. Embassy assessment of Canadian drug policy dated Nov. 2, 2009 and released through Wikileaks.
Peter Reuter (RAND), Franz Trautmann (Trimbos Institute) (eds.)
15 March 2009
This report commissioned by the European Commission, found no evidence that the global drug problem has been reduced during the period from 1998 to 2007 – the primary target of the 1998 UNGASS, which aimed to significantly reduce the global illicit drugs problem by 2008 through international cooperation and measures in the field of drug supply and drug demand reduction. Broadly speaking the situation has improved a little in some of the richer countries, while for others it worsened, and for some of those it worsened sharply and substantially', among which are a few large developing or transitional countries. Given the limitations of the data, a fair judgment is that the problem became somewhat more severe.
A strong attack against the European practice of 'leniency' regarding cannabis use and possession took place at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) session (11-15 March, 2002) in Vienna. There was an orchestrated attempt to pass a CND resolution to put a dam against the 'leniency'.
On several recent occasions, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has refused to offer an opinion on sanctions that violate international law, such as the death penalty. The following is a transcript from a Civil Society Dialogue with the President of the INCB, Hamid Ghodse, during the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs on 15 March 2012. For a commentary on the dialogue please see the article at Inter-Press Service titled, ‘Narcotics Watchdog Turns Blind Eye to Rights Abuses’.
In a letter to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) the Government of Bolivia rejects the judgments made by the independent agency of the United Nations after a visit in December 2011 and the conclusions of the Board on the decision to withdraw from the 1961 UN Single Convention and re-adhere with a reservation that would allow for the use of coca in its natural state within Bolivian territory an uphold the traditional practice of coca chewing. The Bolivian government says the INCB is overstepping its mandate. TNI publishes an unofficial translation of the original spanish version of the letter.
The Report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) for 2010 reveals not only the INCB’s continuing habit of exceeding its mandate, but also an enthusiasm for censuring what it regards as moves towards the liberalization of policy practice while preferring to remain silent on other areas that are within its purview and merit attention. This IDPC report concludes that this year’s Report does reflect some positive changes in the INCB’s outlook, but these are still outweighed by familiar negative practices and positions.
Today the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) released its annual report. I’ve been following the Board for many, many years now, have often criticized its narrow interpretation of the treaties, have questioned the validity of its usually negative comments about any policy changes in the direction of harm reduction or decriminalization, and have warned repeatedly about its tendency to overstep its clearly defined mandate.