The highlight of the session thus far is without a doubt the passionate speech of Bolivian President Evo Morales.
President Morales told the plenary that ‘I’m coming here to ask you to correct 2 major historical mistakes in the 1961 Convention on the issue of coca’, citing paragraph 2E of Article 49 which states that coca leaf chewing must be abolished within 25 years of the Convention coming into force, and paragraph 1C of Article 49, allows reservations by states on the use of coca leaf. He stated that these articles constitute an infringement on the rights of indigenous people as enshrined in Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Declaration on Cultural Diversity, the Declaration of Diversity of Cultural Expression and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
He quoted field reports from 1950 report on coca that were prepared to feed into drafting of the 1961 Single Convention. The report noted that although coca leaf chewing was a custom that appeared not to lead to addiction, it concluded anyway that it was harmful.
Holding up a coca leaf to the audience, he explained that coca is part and parcel of a culture in the Andean region used by 10 million people, with significant cultural and medicinal uses dating back thousands of years. President Morales explained that the new draft constitution of Bolivia, which will be voted on by the Bolivian people, specifically protects the coca leaf in its natural form. Popping the coca leaf into his mouth, he explained that he used coca regularly for 10 years while he was a farmer, and that clearly if there had been any adverse affects from coca he would not have been elected President.
He concluded by saying there must be a separation between the natural and cultural use of coca and the use of coca to produce cocaine, and called upon states to withdraw coca leaf from restriction under the terms of the 1961 Convention.
The response from the CND Chairperson? ‘Thank you for informing us on your traditions.’