24 June 2011
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Bolivia’s Proposed Amendment to 1961 Narcotic Drugs Convention


Bolivia planned to “denounce” the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 before 1 July, in order to enter a reservation to the provision on coca leaf chewing, a practice that under the Convention had to be phased out in 25 years — now elapsed — and then rejoin the treaty on the same day, with that reservation, the country’s Ambassador said today at a Headquarters press conference.


Bolivia intended to re-accede to the Convention on the day it denounced it, with its proposed “reservation”, which was currently before its legislature, said Pablo Solón, explaining the process by which Bolivia intended to withdraw, and then rejoin the Convention.  The denouncement would enter into force on 1 January 2012.


The “reservation” would be in line with that which Bolivia presented to the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988 and be specific to coca leaf chewing.  To that end, Bolivian President Evo Morales Ayma had put before the legislature a draft proposal to denounce the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs before 1 July.


That action, explained the Ambassador further, would enable Bolivia to submit an amendment to its Constitution regarding coca leaf chewing and the traditional uses of coca leaf which, under the framework of the Narcotic Drug Convention of 1961, were prohibited, and indeed, penalized.  What should have happened was that when Bolivia acceded to the Convention in 1965, the country’s President at the time should have tabled that reservation because the majority of the Bolivian people chewed coca leaf.  That, in no way, was considered to constitute drug dependency in that country, he emphasized.


However, Mr. Solón continued, that did not happen, and consequently, Bolivia, Peru and other Andean States had been duty-bound to comply with the Convention.  The 25-year phasing out period applicable to coca leaf chewing had now passed.  With that realization, Bolivia had first proposed an amendment to the Convention, tabling it in March 2009.  Regrettably, 17 States objected to it, thereby rendering its passage impossible.


The 17 States that opposed the proposed amendment feared that such an adjustment to the treaty could “affect” its integrity and open the door for others to follow suit.  Many of the States parties indicated that they had no objections to coca leaf chewing, per se, which they recognized as an age-old practice of indigenous peoples; however, they could not agree to Bolivia’s amendment because of the risk it would jeopardize the Convention’s integrity.


Given the attitude of those States that had objected to the proposal, he pointed to a report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy 2011, which had described the current drug policy as “drug control imperialism”.  Among the commission’s members were the European Union’s former High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Peruvian writer and public intellectual Mario Vargas Llosa.  Quoting from that report, he said:  “The idea that the international drug control system is immutable, and that any amendment — however reasonable or slight — is a threat to the integrity of the entire system, is short-sighted.”


Nevertheless, he said, his country would continue to abide by the terms of the 1961 Single Convention and the Protocol Amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1972, until the new adhesion entered into force.  Once that process of adhesion and reservation had concluded, the 1961 Convention and the 1972 Protocol amending it would be remitted for ratification in accordance with Bolivia’s Constitution.


In response to correspondents’ questions, Mr. Solón said Bolivia had widely consulted on its proposal, and he confirmed that the majority of States parties saw the merits in Bolivia’s reservations.


Specifically asked if Bolivia had sought and received the support of the United States, he said his country had held discussions with Washington on the matter, and that the United States had indicated that it was discussing it among its various government agencies.


He explained that the Secretary-General would make Bolivia’s reservation known to the States parties to the Convention.  If, in the course of 12 months (until January 2013), less than one third of the countries, or 63, objected to the reservation, the re-accession would be authorized.  In his view, the overall effects of Bolivia’s proposal would neither necessitate the convening of an international conference to consider it or result in any modification to the Convention or its Protocol, as the reservation only applied to Bolivia.


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