19 March 2011

Drugs and politics

Last January the eyes of the world were on Tunisia and Egypt. Since then Japan happened, and things haven't stopped. That doesn't mean that the affairs of the world change. On the contrary, now is a good time for some "to bury bad news".

One bit of news that has been effectively buried is the way in which the US, with the support of a number of other countries, including France, the UK, and Germany, exercised their full political muscle against one of the world's poorest democracies, Bolivia. Bolivia had tabled a request through the UN system to have an article amended in the 1961 "Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs". This amendment would have lifted the obligation to eradicate the coca bush and the local custom of chewing coca leaf. This is a custom that goes back to well before the Europeans came to America. The coca leaf is not cocaine. It has many medicinal and other beneficial properties.

So why this obsession to stick to the letter of a fifty year old convention that has arguably not been very effective? The US and other countries went out of their way to assure the Bolivians that this was not aimed at their country, but that accepting the amendment would send "the wrong signal" about the world's determination to fight the drugs problem and that this might lead to other amendments.

This is an almost disarming admission of doubt in the legal construct of the UN's drug conventions and the multilateral drug control system that they created. My own contacts with UN staff over the last eight years leave me in no doubt that the system was always questionable, is now corrupted and outdated, and that this view is shared by an increasing number of UN and national officials, but not (yet) by their political masters.

Why does this matter, now that thousands have died in Japan and a nuclear disaster is unfolding? Because the protection of human rights and the need for civilised government are not suspended by disasters, they reinforce them.

More on this to come. 

18:00 Posted by Carel Edwards in Drugs and politics | Permalink | Comments (0) |  Facebook