To the National Equality Bodies
9 february 2011
Dear Madam / Sir
Herewith we would like to issue a complaint to the government of your country for racial and cultural discrimination against the indigenous people of the Andean region in South America.
In 2009, the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, requested that the UN change the text of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. That change would have put an end to the discriminatory and scientifically untenable ban on the chewing of coca leaves, an age-old practice among indigenous people of the Andean region. Archaeological evidence shows that coca leaf consumption dates back at least to 5.000 years B.C.
The request was formulated in such a way that the modification of the text would only apply to coca producing countries in the Andean region, while the global control system for coca cultivation and cocaine would remain intact.
The ban on coca leaf chewing in the 1961 Single Convention was based on the findings of the UN 1950 Commission of Enquiry on the Coca Leaf. This report has since been criticised by analysts as arbitrary, imprecise, racist and culturally insensitive.
The UN procedure for dealing with requests such as Bolivia’s, foresees that each of the 190 UN member states has to accept the request. If just one country presents an objection, the request is refused.
According to reports that have come out of the recent meetings of the “Horizontal Drugs Group”, the committee of EU Member States that deals with drug policies, the government of the United States requested that the European Union object to the Bolivian request.
The motivation of the US government has nothing to do with the nature of the coca leaf and its regulation. According to a statement made by the US Embassy in Bolivia on 26 January 2011, the US government’s stance is based on the importance of maintaining the integrity of the 1961 Convention. Integrity in this regard can be interpreted as what the US government considers to be “the moral soundness” of the UN convention.
When the deadline for presenting objections against the Bolivian request expired on 31 January, it turned out that 17 EU member countries did not present any objection. One of them (Spain) even openly supported the request.
In January 2011 the government of your country presented an objection to the Bolivian request to the UN therewith supporting the maintenance of the ban on traditional coca leaf consumption in Bolivia.
This ban must be considered a regrettable act of racism, since it criminalises and stigmatises an age old cultural practice without any negative effects.
The 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that “indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.”
In the Madrid Declaration of the European Union – Latin America and Caribbean Summit, on May 18, 2010, European countries recognized the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples.
Your country has herewith recognised the right of indigenous people to protect and maintain their cultural heritage.
We urge you to take any legal initiative that is appropriate to demand your government to act according to the Madrid Declaration, redraw its objection to the Bolivian amendment and stop justifying the criminalisation of a cultural practice.
Encod Steering Committee