Bolivia Withdraws from the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs

TNI/WOLA Press release
Thursday, June 30, 2011

tni_wola2The Bolivian government formally notified the UN Secretary General of its withdrawal from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (as amended by the 1972 Protocol) yesterday. The withdrawal will enter into effect on 1 January 2012. At that time, Bolivia will re-accede to the Convention with a reservation on the coca leaf and its traditional uses.

Bolivia’s step – the first of its kind in the history of the UN drug control treaties – comes after the rejection earlier this year of its proposal to delete the Single Convention’s obligation that “coca leaf chewing must be abolished” (article 49). A number of countries, including the United States, objected.

TNI and WOLA express their full understanding and support for the decision taken by the Morales administration, with the approval of the Bolivian legislature. After its proposed amendment was rejected, Bolivia had no other choice but to withdraw from the Convention, given the need to reconcile its international treaty obligations with the country’s new 2009 Constitution, which allows for a period of four years for the government to “denounce and, in that case, renegotiate the international treaties that may be contrary to the Constitution.”

According to the 2009 Constitution: “The State shall protect native and ancestral coca as cultural patrimony, a renewable natural resource of Bolivia’s biodiversity, and as a factor of social cohesion; in its natural state it is not a narcotic. It’s revaluing, production, commercialization and industrialization shall be regulated by law” (article 384). Martin Jelsma, director of TNI’s Drugs and Democracy program, points out: “The restrictions placed by the Single Convention on the coca leaf and its traditional uses – in the absence of any evidence of its harmfulness, were an historical error and a violation of indigenous rights.” The other procedure available under the treaty to correct this error – apart from the amendment that was already rejected – is a World Health Organization (WHO) review of the classification of the coca leaf. Bolivia considers that the outcome of such a WHO procedure would likely take too long to comply with the four-year Constitutional deadline.

We call on the international community to express understanding and support for the decision taken by the Bolivian government. Other countries with comparable legal conflicts regarding the status of the coca leaf, such as Peru, Colombia and Argentina, would be well-advised to follow Bolivia’s step and/or to initiate the long overdue WHO review.

Kristel Mucino, TNI/WOLA Drug Law Reform Project Communications Coordinator
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