Amendment against anti-coca chewing provisions

Bolivia to file request at the UN
Tuesday, July 21, 2009

evo-morales-coca-un2In March 2009, Evo Morales sent his formal request to the Secretary General Bang Ki Moon to delete articles 49(c) and 49(e) of the 1961 UN Single Convention that explicitly mention that "coca leaf chewing must be abolished with twenty-five years from the coming into force of this Convention" (which happened in December 1964). The request will be discussed on Thursday, 30 July, at the annual meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Putting this request on the ECOSOC agenda is a required procedure for amendment proposals. It is under Agenda item 14 (d), Narcotic drugs, General Segment (see the Note of Secretary General).

The only decision ECOSOC has to take at this point is what the next step in the procedure will be. Either call for a Conference of the Parties to discuss it, or forwarding the request to all Parties of the Convention who from that moment on will have 18 months to comment on the proposed amendment. If after 18 months no one has expressed objections, the amendment will enter into force. So, this is not a decision yet about the amendment itself, only about choosing between these two options.  

Among policy makers there is quite some confusion about what this means, fearing it will soften controls on coca including for cocaine production, which might lead to countries already expressing their objections and putting in obstacles so early on in the process. For clarification about what exactly is at stake at the ECOSCO meeting, here are the key points.

1) A Conference of the Parties is a heavy and expensive instrument, in the case of the 1961 Convention that happened only once, for the significant number of 1972 amendments. This Bolivian amendment is a relatively minor request to delete two outdated sub-articles dealing exclusively with coca chewing.

2) If adopted, the amendment would not change anything at all for existing controls on the coca leaf as it remains controlled under Schedule I. Removing coca leaf from the schedules, a procedure Bolivia announced to start formally later this year, is a completely separate process involving the WHO Expert Committee and subsequently approval of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and ECOSOC. We expect that a decision based on the WHO recommendation, is unlikely to appear on the CND agenda before 2012, though the formal request by Bolivia and the start of the whole procedure will probably take place before the end of this year.

3) The deletion of the two sub-paragraphs is a largely symbolic measure, though not unimportant. Those texts represent the most obvious contradiction between the 1961 and 1988 (art.14 b: "with due respect for traditional uses") treaties, and the text is regularly referred to by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) to call on the Andean countries (and Argentina) to "eliminate uses of coca leaf, including coca leaf chewing", which is again and again seen as an insult to the ancient Andean culture. Deletion of those references from the treaty is correcting the cultural insensitivity prevalent at the time of negotiations, and an acknowledgement of an historical error made at the time. Since then a process of indigenous empowerment and emancipation took place in the Andean region, including its political expression in the election of Evo Morales as President of Bolivia. The inclusion of coca leaf as cultural heritage in the new Bolivian Constitution is another reason why it is no longer acceptable for Bolivia to be Party to a UN Conventions that says coca chewing needs to be eliminated.

4) We call on ECOSOC delegations to decide to simply pass the amendment request to the Parties, and subsequently not to express any objections against it so it can enter into force after 18 months. By then it is expected that the issue of removal of coca leaf from the schedules will be put in motion, in a separate procedure.