Objections to Bolivia’s reservation to allow coca chewing in the UN conventions (UPDATED)


in Drug use/misuse,Global Policy News,Policy

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Sweden joined the United States and the United Kingdom in objecting to the re-accession of Bolivia to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs after Bolivia had denounced the convention and asked for re-accession with a reservation that allows for the traditional ancestral habit of coca chewing in the country. Italy also objected, but the objection of Sweden is particularly disturbing.

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The objections have been criticised as hypocritical, since the US, the UK and Sweden were themselves the first countries to propose amendments to this same treaty, at which point they argued the need for the control system to develop and improve. Furthermore, Sweden’s objection risks showing extreme disrespect to the indigenous rights of the people of Bolivia.

Several other areas of hypocrisy and controversy are highlighted by the article, illustrating the ignorance and stubbornness that continues to pervade international drug system.

Despite the objections, the Bolivian re-accession will still go ahead on the 10th January unless at least 58 other countries (making the total up to 62, or one third of the signatories) come forward with their own objections.

The process of denouncing and re-acceding with reservations has been recommended as a workable method for adapting the convention to the specific needs of individual countries.

As an alternative, the recently published Beckley Foundation Report ’Roadmap to Reforming the UN Drug Conventions’ explains in detail how the three UN Conventions (1961, 1971 and 1988) could themselves be amended in order to give countries greater freedom to adopt drug policies suited to their special needs. In this case there would be a reduced need for the protracted and arduous process of denunciation and re-accession.

In particular, the report details the treaty amendments that would be necessary if a country (or, better, a group of countries working together) wished to experiment with a regulated non-medical market, or explicitly decriminalise a substance for personal use. Both of these options are inadmissable under the current international system.

The report’s editor and lead author is Robin Room, a leading expert in drug and alcohol policy and a Beckley Foundation collaborator, with contributions from lawyer Sarah Mackay.

The report can be downloaded in full here.


On 4 January, a fifth objection to Bolivia’s re-accession with reservations was formally issued by Canada, citing concerns that the reservation would lead to a greater supply of coca leaf and consequent availability of cocaine. Fifty-seven further member states are now necessary to block Bolivia’s re-accession.

On 8 January, France formally issued the sixth objection to Bolivia’s reservation. In its dispensary notification, France acknowledges the rights of the indigenous peoples, but states its fear that the reservation could “undermine the overall balance of the Convention and, consequently, the response to global drug trafficking.” The notification goes on to state that although it objects to the reservation, France does not “oppose Bolivia’s becoming a party to the Convention.”

I was reported yesterday that russian President Vladimir Putin has submitted to parliament a draft law on Russia’s objection to Bolivia’s reservation. However, as the deadline has already passed, the objection cannot be formally issued to the UN if and when the draft has gone through parliament.

It [is] not entirely clear why Putin moved the bill after the 12-month period has expired or what effect Russia’s formal objection will now have.

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Since only six of the member states submitted valid objections prior to the deadline, it appears as though the reservation shall be deemed permitted.

Bolivia’s successful re-accession has been confirmed in a joint press release from the Transnational Institute and the Washington Office on Latin America



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