Below is copied the press release from the Transnational Institute concerning the latest annual report from the International Narcotics Control Board, the quasi-judicial body that oversees state adherence to the UN drug conventions. The INCB has been on the receiving end of sustained NGO criticism for its secrecy, politicisation, and its overzealous approach to some policy areas outside of its remit (objections to established harm reduction initiatives), whilst ignoring key issues that are very much within its remit (notably adherence to human rights in drug enforcement). The TNI have taken issue with the INCB's latest extraordinary call for all coca leaf production to to be prohibited and its use, including indigenous and traditional, to be abolished.
The INCB's annual report is available from the INCB site here
A series of critical reports on the troubling machinations of this anomalous UN entity have been published recently (see below), and for further detailed information on the INCB, and the current UN drug strategy review process see the excellent new TNI website www.ungassondrugs.org
Abolishing Coca Leaf Consumption?
The INCB needs to perform a reality check
The Transnational Institute condemns the decision by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) in their 2007 annual report released today, which calls on countries to ‘abolish or prohibit coca leaf chewing and the manufacture of coca tea’. (1)
According to Pien Metaal, researcher specialising in coca issues at the Transnational Institute:
“The Board is displaying both arrogance and blindness by demanding that countries impose criminal sanctions on distribution and possession for traditional uses of the coca leaf, which is a key feature of Andean-Amazon indigenous cultures. Isn’t it time for this UN treaty body to get in touch with reality and show some more cultural sensitivity?”
Coca chewing and drinking of coca tea is carried out daily by millions of people in the
It also contradicts the 1988 UN drugs convention which recognized traditional uses (3) as well as statements within the current 2007 INCB report which talk about “respect for national sovereignty, for the various constitutional and other fundamental principles of domestic law – practice, judgments and procedures –and for the rich diversity of peoples, cultures, customs and values.” (4)
TNI also condemns the demand within the INCB report that countries should “establish as a criminal offence, when committed intentionally, the possession and purchase of coca leaf for personal consumption”,(5) which if it were implemented would mean the prosecution of several million people in the Andean-Amazon region. It targets not just consumers but also peasants who grow coca: “Governments should establish as criminal offences under its domestic law, when committed intentionally, the cultivation of coca bush for the purpose of the production of narcotic drugs contrary to the provisions of the 1961 Convention”(6), reflecting all uses of the coca leaf.
“Given that the Board in the same report talks about proportionality in sentencing, the Board’s position makes no sense. It would criminalise entire peoples for a popular tradition and custom that has no harm and is even beneficial,” says Pien Metaal.
Earlier reports by the INCB have pointed to the inconsistencies between traditional uses of the coca leaf and the 1961 Single Convention on drugs (which included the coca leaf as “narcotic drug”), but no state has made serious efforts to abolish a habit that has no risk to public health.(7) Moreover, beneficial uses of the plant have growing markets worldwide.
It is understood that the Board was responding to
According to Martin Jelsma, coordinator of the TNI drugs programme:
“The inclusion of the coca leaf in Schedule I of narcotic drugs of the 1961 Convention was based on an ECOSOC study done back in 1950, inspired by colonial and racist sentiments rather than science. (8) It is time the Board asks the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the World Health Organisation for guidance on this matter instead of casting its own narrow-minded judgment and retreating to the obsolete thinking of the 1961 Convention.”
Drugs & Democracy Programme (TNI) Tel +31-20-6626608
Pien Metaal +31640798808 email@example.com or
Martin Jelsma +31655715893 firstname.lastname@example.org
See also TNI’s website www.ungassondrugs.org launched to coincide with the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND)’s meeting in Vienna to review UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs for more background.
1 “The Board calls on the Governments of Bolivia and Peru to consider amending their national legislation so as to abolish or prohibit activities that are contrary to the 1961 Convention, such as coca leaf chewing and the manufacture of mate de coca (coca tea).” INCB annual report 2007, para 217
4 Foreword, INCB report 2007
5 Idem, paragraph 219
6 Idem, paragraph 219
8 The 1950 ECOSOC Commission of Enquiry on the Coca Leaf claimed that the habit of chewing could be held responsible for malnutrition and immoral behaviour of the ‘Andean man’, while reducing his productive capacity. Report of the findings of the Commission of Enquiry of the Coca Leaf, ECOSOC 1950, now available here
TNI blog commentary on the new INCB report from Martin Jelsma:
INCB & Coca
A colonial attitude unworthy for a UN agency
When the INCB Annual Report for 2007 –under embargo until March 5- started to circulate about a month ago, I was in complete shock after reading the worst ever paragraphs on coca written in UN history for several decades. The position taken by the Board now can be characterized by no more talk about the need to solve 'long-standing ambiguities in the conventions', not a shred of sympathy anymore for traditional customs or rights of indigenous peoples, no trace of cultural sensitivity at all, an all-out attack against coca chewing, drinking of coca tea or any other uses of coca in its natural form in the Andean region and the northern parts of Argentina and Chile. We were warned last year in their report already about this direction of INCB thinking, but still I am outraged by this year’s call to “the Governments of Bolivia and Peru to initiate action without delay with a view to eliminating uses of coca leaf, including coca leaf chewing” and that all countries “should establish as a criminal offence, when committed intentionally, the possession and purchase of coca leaf for personal consumption”.
The INCB has pointed out this contradiction several times (most clearly in its 1994 supplement to their Annual Report) and requested the CND to bring clarity and give policy guidance. Why then do they now take a high-ground position of judge, jury and executioner and arrogantly instruct the world to go back to the 1961 coca abolition dogma, which was based on a colonial and racist ‘study’ published in 1950? I’ve tried to follow dynamics within the Board over the past decade, not an easy task because it operates under a cloud of secrecy totally out-of-line with any accepted UN standards about transparency and accountability. But still, it leaves me puzzled.
Is this the influence of Camilo Uribe Granje, the new Colombian INCB member, previously known for his attempts –paid by the US embassy in Bogota- to deny any harmful impacts of the chemical spraying campaign against coca fields? Or is it due to INCB President Emafo’s influence, a true dinasaur of zero tolerance who also maintains that needle exchange or harm reduction is against the UN drug control conventions, on a moment UNAIDS and WHO declare such interventions to be the only effective answer to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Asia and Eastern Europe? Or is it an attempt by the Board to show to the US that they are still keeping a hard line on some issues to compensate for the softer line they take in this report on harm reduction and 'proportionality of criminal sanctions'? That could be a point, because there are several positive things to say about this year’s INCB report, positions that probably will not please the current Bush administration. However, even the US has stopped condemning traditional coca uses in the Andes and you can drink coca tea when visiting the US embassy in La Paz.
There must have been disagreement within the INCB on this issue, because not all the members are as ignorant and out-of-touch with reality to support such an extremist position. We may never know, because the Board’s policy is to not mention internal disagreements or minority positions. It is very worrying that the wording on coca in this year’s report apparently had a majority support within the Board and those members who agreed to it should feel ashamed, especially after the recent adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that acknowledges fully the right to the people concerned to continue to chew coca or drink coca tea. Including the WHO has found that coca consumed in its natural form is beneficial. What is the INCB thinking to achieve with this retreat to the obsolete thinking of the 1961 Convention? It merely underlines the need to reform the way the Board is operating. If a majority of the Board does not come to its senses and corrects this mistake, they will only further dig their own grave and confirm their unworthiness to be a UN agency.
Martin Jelsma, TNI
5 March 2008
Four critical reports on the INCB
1. The International Narcotics Control Board: Current Tensions and Options for Reform
IDPC Briefing Paper 7, February 2008
This briefing paper brings together material and analysis from a number of recent reports that raise questions about the role and functioning of the INCB. The IDPC analysis is that the Board mixes a rigid and overzealous approach to some aspects of its mandate, while showing a selective reticence in others. These inconsistencies do not arise automatically from the structure or role of the Board, but from the operational and policy decisions of its officers and members.
Beginning with a discussion of its formal powers and self-proclaimed "unique" position in international relations, this IDPC report explores the tensions surrounding various aspects of the current operation of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB or Board). These tensions are analysed in light of the INCB’s interpretation of the UN drug control conventions and its mandate as laid out within them. It is argued here that in a number of contexts the Board appears prepared to act beyond the limitations which the treaties place upon it and engage in what can be termed mission creep. The report also explores other contexts within which the INCB appears reluctant to meet its mandated obligations and displays what can be described as selective reticence. The report contends that the areas of concern surrounding these mandate issues are further reinforced and complicated by the INCB’s culture of secrecy and the lack of transparency which characterizes all its work. It concludes by outlining "A Way Forward" in reviewing the way the INCB operates: a vital and timely endeavour that should be undertaken during the UN-level process to assess the 1998 UNGASS on drugs and the subsequent period of global reflection leading up to a high-level meeting in 2009 where markers for future UN drug control efforts can be adopted.
2. ‘Unique in International Relations’? A Comparison of the International Narcotics Control Board and the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies, by Damon Barrett, International Harm Reduction Association, February 2008
Download the full report in PDF
a new report released in February 2008 by the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA), the INCB comes in for some heavy criticism for being overly secretive, closed to external dialogue with civil society, and out of kilter with similar agencies in other UN programmes. IHRA also debunks the INCB’s defence that it is ‘unique in international relations’.
3. 'Closed to Reason: the International Narcotic Control Board and HIV / AIDS', by Joanne Csete and Daniel Wolfe, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and International Harm Reduction Development Program (IHRD) of the Open Society Institute, February 2007
A report published in March 2007 by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the Open Society Institute Public Health Program, strongly criticises the INCB. It accuses the Board of becoming 'an obstacle to effective programs to prevent and treat HIV and chemical dependence'. “Nearly one in three HIV infections outside Africa is among people who inject drugs. The International Narcotics Control Board could and should be playing a key role in stopping this injection-driven HIV epidemic — but it’s not,” said Joanne Csete, Executive Director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and co-author of the report.
4. The INCB and the un-scheduling of the coca leaf
TNI Drug Policy Briefing No. 21, March 2007
The 2006 International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) report emitted a clear signal to the governments of Bolivia, Peru and Argentina that growing and using coca leaf is in conflict with international treaties, particularly the 1961 Single Convention. The INCB, rather than making harsh judgements based on a selective choice of outdated treaty articles, should use its mandate more constructively and help draw attention to the inherent contradictions in the current treaty system with regard to how plants, plant-based raw materials and traditional uses are treated.
Further reading on coca:
From Soft drink to Hard Drug; A Snapshop History of Coca, Cocaine and Crack
Transform briefing 2005
For more see the TNI publications page here