Seventeen objections to abolishing the ban on coca chewing

Although the deadline for filing objections expired, governments can still withdraw their objections …
Monday, February 7, 2011

cocachewingThe final count after closure of the January 31 deadline to file objections to the Bolivian amendment to remove the ban on coca leaf chewing in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, comes to 17 objections: the US, UK, Sweden, Canada, Denmark, Germany, the Russian Federation, Japan, Singapore, Slovakia, Estonia, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Latvia, Malaysia and Mexico. That means that only 17 of the 184 countries that are Party to the treaty (as amended by the 1972 Protocol) have filed an objection. We call on them to still reconsider and withdraw their objection before the issue appears on the UN agenda for a decision.

The 17 objectors will effectively block the automatic adoption of the Bolivian amendment. What happens next is still unclear. The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) will have to reach a decision on how to proceed, and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) probably will be consulted about it during its annual session on March 21-25 in Vienna. A next step could be to convene a Conference of the Parties (COP) to discuss the issue. Germany has said that it will favourably consider such an option. Convening such a conference is precisely what the United States wanted to avoid by drumming up as many objections as possible. However, 17 of 184 is not even 10 percent.

President Morales has said that Bolivia is contemplating to withdraw from the Single Convention and adhere again with a reservation on the abolishing of coca chewing, in case their proposed amendment will be rejected. We urge those countries that have voiced support for the Bolivian amendment such as Spain, Ecuador and Uruguay, as well as countries that legally allow coca chewing within their country, such as Peru, Argentina, Chile and Colombia to join Bolivia if it decides to do so. In fact, all South-American countries signed several declarations by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) that “acknowledged that the chewing of coca leaves is an ancestral cultural expression of the people of Bolivia that should be respected by the international community.”

Most countries argue their decision to reject the Bolivian amendment on the basis of “the importance to maintain the integrity of the 1961 Convention, which constitutes an important tool for the global fight against drug trafficking”. Although those countries say to respect the culture of indigenous peoples and recognize that coca chewing is a traditional custom in Bolivia, they are essentially saying to Bolivia: “We don’t really have a problem with coca chewing, but we prefer that you keep violating the Convention rather than try to change it according to the established procedures.” A more negative signal regarding the integrity of the treaty system is difficult to imagine, coming from countries ostensibly protecting it.

Objecting countries will be challenged to present more substantive arguments to explain their opposition and how the amendment would affect them if it were adopted.  Hopefully all countries involved are willing to engage in a constructive dialogue about the dilemma Bolivia and other countries allowing coca chewing are faced with. Simply rejecting the request will not make the issue disappear, the legal conflict will have to be resolved one way or another.