To Look Tough on Drugs, and Please the US, the UK is Willing to Trample on Indigenous Rights

08/01/2013

in Global Policy News,Opinion,Policy,War on Drugs

Damon Barrett, Director of the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy, has written an article severely criticising the UK over its objection to Bolivia’s re-accession with reservations to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

Bolivia seeks to legitimise the traditional uses of coca leaf by the Andean people, which were outlawed in the 1961 Convention in a move widely regarded to be a either a mistake or a historical injustice based on prejudice and poor information.

Unless 62 states under the Convention issue objections Bolivia will re-join the Convention on 10 January, but without the obligation to eradicate the practice of coca-chewing. So far, only five states (including the UK) have issued objections, mostly over concerns that the reservation undermines the international drug control system or that possible wider cultivation of coca leaf could result in an increased cocaine supply.

Such objections to Bolivia’s reservation are both hypocritical and misguided, as discussed both by Damon Barrett and in an article by the Transnational Institute published last Friday:

The Single Convention, still the bedrock of the international legal system on drugs, was based on the claim that in order to protect the health of people at home (read: rich, consumer nations) from the ‘evil’ of addiction (the treaty’s words) it was necessary to eradicate production of certain plants in developing countries. This is the supply-side enforcement approach to drugs that has dominated since the mid 20th Century. We now know this to be quixotic, abusive nonsense even as it remains so vigorously pursued. Today, more than 180 countries have signed up.

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Furthermore, supply-side enforcement has previously proven ineffective in reducing supply of the illicit substances they are used to produce and can have unforeseen negative consequences. For example, when a crack-down diminishes supply from one region, the deficit is usually compensated by increased supply from another, a phenomenon dubbed the “Balloon Effect”.

Aside from unforeseen consequences, an obvious result of blocking Bolivia’s reservation would be the violation of the indigenous peoples ancient right to chew coca leaf for religious and ceremonial purposes. An act that is in fact protected by the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

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