Bolivia’s legal reconciliation with the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs

IDPC Advocacy Note
July 2011

idpc-boliviaOn 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.

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The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) supports the difficult decision taken by the Morales administration to respond to this situation by the most proportionate and legally appropriate means. Bolivia is attempting to balance many legal interests and has an obligation to protect its cultural and indigenous traditions. IDPC calls on the international community to abstain from any objections that could prevent Bolivia’s re-accession next year.

In early July 2011, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) called on countries to oppose Bolivia’s decision. This intervention is extremely unhelpful, and arguably an abuse of the Board’s mandate. We call on the INCB to refrain from any further attempts to influence member states’ reaction to the Bolivian announcement.

The Single Convention was presented in 1961 as a move to clarify and adapt the earlier treaties to the changes which had occurred over the years. Recalling this history should do much to remove the misplaced aura of sacred immutability that currently shrouds the contemporary UN drug control treaty framework. Regimes of all types undergo change during their existence and there is therefore nothing unique about reforming the current drug control regime and the Single Convention upon which it is based.

Member states should find a way to support Bolivia in reconciling its constitutional and treaty obligations, moving away from a rigid defence of every word of the 50 year old Single Convention, to create a drug control framework that is fit for purpose for the 21st Century. The 50th anniversary of the Single Convention this year in fact is an opportune moment to start considering a revision of some of its out-dated and misplaced provisions.

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