Bolivia’s concurrent drug control and other international legal commitments

Damon Barrett
International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy (ICHRDC)
July 1, 2011

Bolivia’s denunciation of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs is not just about one treaty. It is about finding an appropriate balance between multiple concurrent and conflicting international legal obligations. When international treaties ratified by or acceded to by Bolivia and relevant jurisprudence are taken into account, it is clear that Bolivia would find itself in breach of multiple international agreements were it to fully implement the 1961 Single Convention as written. A reservation on the 1961 Single Convention is the most reasonable and proportionate way to address this conflict.

application-pdfinternational_legal_commitments.pdf (PDF)

This is particularly so in relation to indigenous peoples and free prior and informed consent relating on issues that affect them. The manner in which Bolivia translates international obligations under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs into national legislation, programmes and policies must be consistent with its obligations to respect indigenous peoples rights that flow from its obligations under contemporary international, constitutional and (indigenous) customary law. The proposed reservation provides the means through which these obligations can be harmonised. Without it the Convention would constitute a unilateral imposition of a ban on the coca leaf on indigenous peoples, and a failure to fulfill the obligations to hold good faith consultations in order to obtain their consent and to ensure their cultural and physical survival.

A second question relates to whether the reservation is compatible with other concurrent international legal obligations, in this case under the law of treaties and children’s rights. An analysis of these agreements set against Bolivia’s proposal reveals no apparent conflict.

This backgrounder is divided into two sections.

I. Considers drawing a balance between the Single Convention of 1961 and
• Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948
• International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966
• International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights 1966
• International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 1965
• UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People 2007
• ILO Convention 169 - Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 1989
• UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage 2003
• UN Convention on the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances 1988
• Convention on Biological Diversity 1992

II. Considers the compatibility of the proposed reservation with
• Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969
• Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989
• ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour 1999