Historical Survey




Pages: 3 to 8
Creation Date: 1953/01/01

Historical Survey


The significance of the problem of limiting opium production, which has been a matter of concern to governments for many years, was set forth with particular clarity in the report of the Commission set up by the League of Nations to carry out an inquiry into the control of opium-smoking in the Far East. The report, which was submitted to the Council in 1930, contained the following recommendations, among others:

"As long as poppy cultivation is not under control there will always be illicit traffic in opium. The efforts to control poppy cultivation in one country should not depend on conditions in another, as it is reasonable to expect that no country will abstain long from international co-operation in this field.

"Control of poppy cultivation is indispensable, not only on account of the smoking or eating of opium but also on account of the wide-spread addiction to such narcotic drugs as morphine and heroin, which are derivatives of opium. This is a more serious menace to the whole world than the smoking or eating of opium in the Far East.

"It would be a grave mistake if, in the campaign against opium-smoking, limitation and control of poppy cultivation were not carried out on a sufficiently international scale. Isolated efforts in one country would lead to increased cultivation in another, as was the case when the Government of India from 1927 on enforced reduced exports of opium. The step in the right direction taken by India did not accomplish the expected result, namely, the reduction of the quantities of raw opium available in the international markets. It resulted instead in extended poppy cultivation in other countries which had less possibility of controlling opium exports.

"Steps should be taken to secure international co-operation for the gradual limitation and control of poppy cultivation in all countries where it is possible for the Government to enforce such control. Plans to this end should take into account the possibilities of replacing poppy cultivation by other agricultural production which would place the economic life of these countries on a sounder basis. Limitation of poppy cultivation and its replacement by other production might in some countries require extraordinary measures, including financial assistance on an international basis.

"The League of Nations should invite the Governments concerned to meet in conference to investigate the possibilities of limitation and control of poppy cultivation."


The importance of the problem of the raw materials used in the manufacture of narcotics was not lost upon governments or upon public opinion in the period between the holding of the first international conference on narcotics and the foundation of the League of Nations.

International Commission at Shanghai

Indeed, as early as in 1909 the question of eradicating the production and consumption of opium in China was discussed by the International Opium Commission at Shanghai. The need to limit the production of opium was thus considered although no decision was taken on the subject.

Hague Conference and Convention of 1912

In article 1 of the Opium Convention of 23 January 1912 the International Conference at The Hague placed on the contracting Powers an obligations to enact "effective laws or regulations for the control of the production and distribution of raw opium".


Preliminary work of the Advisory Committee on Traffic in Opium and other Dangerous Drugs

From the beginning the League of Nations concerned itself with the problem of the production of raw opium. Its Advisory Committee on the Traffic in Opium and other Dangerous Drugs, at its fifth session in 1923, adopted a resolution which, among other things, invitedgovernments to agree on "the limitation of the production of raw opium and the coca leaf for export to the amount required for... medicinal and scientific purposes". The resolution added, however, "The latter limitation is not to be deemed to apply to the production and export of raw opium for the purpose of smoking in those territories where that practice is temporarily continued...". The Committee subsequently concerned itself with the compilation of statistics on the production of raw opium for legitimate world needs.

Conference of 1924-1925 and Convention of 1925

The question of the limitation of raw materials was the subject of lively discussion at the Second Opium Conference convened in pursuance of a decision taken by the Fourth Assembly of the League of Nations in 1923. The Conference was held at Geneva from 17 November 1924 to 19 February 1925. During this Conference the United States delegation put forward proposals for the control of the production and distribution of raw opium and coca leaves by each contracting party so that there should be no surplus available for purposes not strictly medical or scientific. The proposals provided, nevertheless, for the possibility of production for exportation of raw opium for the purpose of making prepared opium in those territories where the use of prepared opium was still temporarily permitted.

When it became convinced that the Conference would not adopt the clauses limiting the production of raw opium and coca leaves to medical and scientific needs the United States delegation withdrew from the Conference. (The Chinese delegation also withdrew because the Conference had been unable to agree on the suppression of the use of prepared opium.)

The Convention of 19 February 1925 which emerged from this Conference did not in practice go beyond the provisions of The Hague Convention in the matter of the interior control of raw opium and coca leaves; it still spoke of enacting "laws and regulations" - if that had not already been done --"to ensure the effective control of the production, distribution and export of raw opium..."(article 2). 1

The Convention did, however, establish certain measures of statistical control. Article 22 imposed an obligation to send annually to the Central Board statistics showing the production of raw opium and coca leaves. Mention should be made also of the obligation to include these two substances in the annual statistics of, ( a), stocks in the hands' of wholesalers or held by the government for consumption in the country for other than government purposes, ( b), consumption other than for government purposes, and, ( c), amounts confiscated on account of illicit import or export. The obligation to provide, by telegram if need be, quarterly statistics of imports and exports is also not without importance from the point of view of the control of international trading in these raw materials.

Finally, attention should be drawn to resolution V, which is contained in the Final Act of the 1925 Conference and which reads:

"The Conference asks the Council of the League of Nations to examine the suggestion which has been made in the course of its proceedings, in particular by the Persian delegation, that a commission should be appointed to visit certain opium- producing countries, should those countries so desire, for the purpose of making a careful study (in collaboration with the governments of those countries) of the difficulties connected with the limitation of the production of opium in those countries and advising as to the measures which could be taken to make it possible to limit the production of opium in those countries to the quantities required for medical and scientific purposes."

1931 Conference and Convention on Limitation

The Conference held at Geneva from 27 May to 13 July 1931 concentrated on the problem of limiting the manufacture of narcotic drugs. It was felt that such limitation might contribute, in turn to the limitation of the production of raw materials. The Convention of 13 July provided (article 16) only for strict supervision over the amounts of raw materials (including raw opium) in the possession of each manufacturer. In addition, manufacturers were required (article 17) to submit to governments statistical returns stating the amounts of raw materials received, used and remaining in stock in their factories.

This statistical control, however, was not such as to preclude the existence of a surplus of raw materials which could be easily diverted to the illicit traffic.

League of Nations Assembly decision of 1931

The report of the Commission of Enquiry referred to in the introduction to the present article served as a starting point for the most important work undertaken by the League of Nations with a view to the limitation of opium production.

In January 1931 the Council invited the Advisory Committee on Traffic in Opium and other Dangerous Drugs to study the Commission's proposals. Nine months later the Twelfth Assembly adopted a resolution asking the Advisory Committee and the Secretariat to undertake as soon as possible the collection of all material that might serve as a basis for the discussions of a Conference on the Limitation of the Production of Opium and the Cultivation of the Coca Leaf, and to send a questionnaire on the subject to governments Members and non-members of the League.

The problem of the limitation of the production of the two principal raw materials for the manufacture of narcotic drugs was thus raised for the first time by the League of Nations in all its aspects.

Bangkok Conference

The Twelfth Assembly was followed by the Conference on the Suppression of Opium-Smoking held at Bangkok from 9 November to 27 November 1931. In addition to the agreement of 27 November the Conference adopted a series of recommendations of which the following dealt with the limitation of opium production:

The Hague Convention restricted the measures to be taken in connexion with the export of raw opium to exports to countries which had prohibited the entry of raw opium (such exports were to be prevented) and to countries which limited such imports.

"I ....the suppression .of the use of prepared opium is dependent on the effective limitation of the production of opium..."

"XI....The Conference came to the conclusion that no radical measures for the suppression of the practice of opium-smoking are practicable while the production of opium continues on an enormous scale and while large quantities of opium are smuggled into the territories of the Powers concerned, and considered it essential to place on record the position in regard to the production and smuggling of opium, both for the information of the Council of the League of Nations and of public opinion, and in the hope that the facts may lead the Governments of the countries concerned to take steps to limit such production and prevent exportation for illicit purposes."

Later work of the Advisory Committee

During its sixteenth session (May 1933) the Advisory Committee on Traffic in Opium and other Dangerous Drugs drew up two questionnaires, one relating to raw opium and the other to coca leaf. The Secretariat transmitted these questionnaires to governments, asking Producing countries to furnish information and estimates and requesting other countries to submit any observations which they might care to make on the subject.

At this time the price of opium on the world market had fallen to a quarter of its previous level as a result of the reduction of demand on the legitimate market due to the general economic crisis and the application of international conventions and agreements relating to narcotics. In Consequence, certain producing countries had taken special, measures, such as the introduction of substitute crops or the conclusion of bilateral agreements for the joint marketing of opium (Turkish-Yugoslav Agreement). In the circumstances the Advisory Committee at its sixteenth session considered whether it might not be appropriate, pending the meeting of the proposed international conference, to promote the conclusion among the three producing and exporting countries (Iran, Turkey, Yugoslavia) of an agreement for the limitation of production. No such agreement, however, was concluded.

The Advisory Committee again examined the problem at its twenty-first session in 1936, and reached the conclusion that the questions of the limitation, on the one hand, of opium-poppy cultivation and, on the other hand, of coca leaf cultivation, presented themselves under different aspects. It therefore proposed to the Council to dissociate the two problems, to carry out studies in preparation for the convening at as early a date as possible of a conference on the limitation of raw opium production, and to adjourn the problem of the control of the coca leaf.

At its twenty-second session, the Committee decided that all producing countries should take part in its preparatory work, and asked the Council to invite Afghanistan, Greece, Hungary and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to participate; it also asked for authorization to invite other countries whose collaboration it might judge to be useful.

In 1938, the Committee submitted to the Council a special report which included a survey of the essential principles which might form the basis of a convention for the limitation and control of poppy cultivation and the production of raw opium and the control of other raw materials (poppy straw) for the manufacture of opium alkaloids. The following year the Committee submitted to the Council a report including a draft of the principal articles which might be embodied in the proposed convention. At its last session, in 1940, the Committee expressed the opinion that although it was not at that time possible to summon the proposed conference, the Secretariat might continue its studies with a view to completing the preliminary draft convention on a certain number of points which had been left in suspense.

Work of the League of Nations during the Second World War

During the war years the League of Nations Secretariat and the Permanent Central Board continued to receive reports and statistical information from a number of governments. As the Secretary-General stated in his report on the work of the League during the war:

"The statistical information collected by the League of Nations shows beyond the slightest doubt that raw-opium production far exceeds the legitimate requirements. In addition, there were, before the outbreak of war, huge quantities of raw opium in stock in a number of producing countries. Surplus stocks and excess production always tend to get into the illicit traffic. The demand for raw opium in the legitimate market is constantly decreasing, and will be reduced by approximately 50 per cent through the abolition of opium-smoking alone.2 It is therefore evident that any unnecessary delay in the limitation of raw-opium production may result in a dangerous situation for the whole world."

Proposal by the Government of the United States ofAmerica

In these circumstances the Government of the United States of America, in accordance with a resolution adopted by Congress on 1 July 1944, addressed notes to the Governments of Afghanistan, China, Iran, Mexico, Turkey, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom (for India and Burma) and Yugoslavia proposing a conference, as soon as circumstances permitted, to draft a convention prohibiting the cultivation of the opium poppy except for medical and scientific needs.

2 It should be recalled in this connexion that on 10 November 1943 the Netherlands and British Governments announced their decision to adopt a policy of complete suppression of the use of opium for smoking in all their Far-Eastern territories then under Japanese occupation and, in consequence, not to reestablish, after the liberation of those territories, the prepared-opium monopolies which had previously existed. In 1944, the French Committee of National Liberation adopted the principle of the absolute prohibition of opium-smoking throughout the territories under French authority in the Far East.


Preparatory Studies

The United Nations Organization having assumed the functions of the League of Nations relating to the international control of narcotic drugs, the Economic and Social Council, at its first session in April 1946, established a Commission on Narcotic Drugs which held its first session in December 1946. The Commission considered the United States notes and the replies, in generally favourable terms, which had been received. After reviewing the situation in the various countries, it unanimously adopted a resolution deciding, inter alia, to send to interested governments a questionnaire relating to the further information which would be necessary to continue the preparatory work, preliminary to an international conference on the limitation of raw materials from which narcotic drugs were manufactured.

At its 1948 session the Commission examined the memoranda prepared by the Secretariat and the replies of governments to the questionnaires relating to raw opium. The memoranda pointed out among other things that the legitimate demand for raw opium had amounted to 450 tons for 1946, an increase of 60 per cent on the figure for 1934 and of about 20 per cent on the figure for 1937.

After lengthy discussion, the Commission decided to recommend to the Council to adopt a resolution instructing the Secretary-General to carry out studies and inquiries on the desirability of convening a conference of the opium-producing countries and of countries using opium in the manufacture of drugs for medical and scientific needs, for the purpose of reaching an interim agreement limiting the production and export of opium to these needs, pending the adoption of an international convention on the limitation of raw materials used in the manufacture of narcotic drugs and to submit the results of these studies and inquiries to the next session of the Commission.

At its 1949 session, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs appointed a Sub-Committee, composed of the representatives of opium-producing countries,3 and of China, to consider the desirability of convening a conference to conclude an interim agreement for limiting the production of raw opium to medical and scientific needs. The Sub-Committee made a series of proposals and recommendations, of which the following were the most important: that an ad hoc committee of the Commission, composed of the representatives of the principal opium-producing countries indicated in the Secretariat's memorandum, namely, India, Iran, Turkey, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Yugoslavia, should meet before the end of the year; that the governments of the principal producing countries should consider the methods of allocating exports of opium produced according to a special agreement, the establishment in producing countries of a complete government monopoly (covering every stage of production and disposal of opium), the advisability of creating an international purchasing and selling agency which would facilitate and reinforce international control, and collaboration among manufacturing countries in order to ensure the success of the proposed inter-governmental administrative agreements. The representative of Turkey in the Sub-Committee proposed Istanbul or Ankara as the venue of the ad hoc committee meeting.

3The representative of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, who stated that his country produced opium for its own needs only, did not participate in the meetings of the Sub-Committee.

Ad hoc Committee (1949) and meeting of manufacturing countries (1950)

The representatives of India, Iran, Turkey and Yugoslavia met at Ankara; the following members of the Commission were represented by observers: China, Egypt, United States of America, France and the Netherlands.

The participating States agreed to limit the production of opium to the amount required for medical and scientific purposes; they reached agreement on the allocation to producing countries of shares of sales of the opium which they would produce each year individually in accordance with the preliminary draft of the interim agreement, and on the reorganization of the trade in opium and its transformation into an international monopoly. The ad hoc Committee further proposed a certain number of provisions to be inserted in the interim agreement.

The Secretary-General drew up the first draft of this instrument, taking as a basis the proposals of the ad hoc Committee, and submitted it to the meeting of the principal narcotic drug-manufacturing countries, held at Geneva at the beginning of August 1950.

The meeting accepted, in principle, the decisions taken at Ankara.

Joint Committee (1950)

Following the meeting of the principal drug-manufacturing countries, a Joint Committee of the principal opium-producing and drug-manufacturing countries was convened at Geneva during the latter half of August 1950. It reaffirmed the Ankara agreement and adopted a number of provisional decisions concerning various aspects of the interim agreement, emphasizing in particular the necessity for some form of inspection to ensure the proper functioning and successful operation of the international opium monopoly provided for in the interim agreement.

The Joint Committee met again in New York in November 1950 for the purpose of finding a solution to the problems which had not been solved in the course of its previous meeting. It was, however, unable to reach agreement on the basic price at which the international opium monopoly should conduct its opium transactions, the precise form that international inspection of the opium trade should take under the international monopoly, the problem of the competition which would be met by drug-manufacturing countries from exports of opium alkaloids by countries producing opium under the interim agreement, and the measures required to meet competition from exports of alkaloids made from poppy straw.

In these circumstances, the representative of France proposed that an international monopoly of opium alkaloids should be established at the same time as the international opium monopoly. The Committee did not take any decision on the subject.

Draft protocol

In view of the dead-lock which had been reached. concerning the main points upon which agreement would be indispensable before an international monopoly could be established, the Commission felt that any progress, however limited, towards the achievement of that aim which could be made by other methods, would be preferable to awaiting the possibility of changed conditions permitting further consideration of the proposal for an international monopoly. It was at that juncture that the representative of France submitted to the Commission a draft protocol relating to the limitation of the production of opium based on the principles of the Convention of 13 July 1931 for limiting the manufacture and regulating the distribution of narcotics.

After discussing this draft and hearing the proposals of the drafting committee which had been appointed, the Commission drew up and adopted the principles upon which a protocol of the kind might be based.

Finally, the Commission recommended to the Economic and Social Council a resolution adopting in general the principles of the protocol, requesting the Secretary-General to submit the text of the principles to the Members of the United Nations and to non-member States Parties to the international treaties on narcotics for their observations, and deciding to study at an early session, in the light of the observations made, the possibility of convening an international conference entrusted with the task of preparing and adopting the instrument in question.

Decisions of the Economic and Social Council at its thirteenth session

At its thirteenth session the Council studied the report of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs on its sixth session. The drafts of the interim agreement and of the protocol were the subject of lengthy discussion in the Social Committee. On 9 August 1951, the Council adopted two resolutions relating to the limitation of opium production. The first (395 B (XIII)) requested the Secretary-General to submit the text of the general principles of the protocol established by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs to governments for the communication of their observations before 1 November 1951.

The second resolution (395 C (XIII)) requested the Secretary-General to transmit the draft of the proposed interim agreement creating the international opium monopoly to governments for their observations on the proposed agreement, including its practicability. The resolution also requested the Secretary-General to prepare an annotated compendium of those observations to be considered by the Council at the same time as it considered the observations of governments on the proposed protocol.

In accordance with these resolutions, the Secretary-General communicated to governments the annotated compendium of observations received by him on the two drafts in question. He also drew up the draft protocol in legal form.

Decision of the Council to convene an international conference

The observations communicated by governments were for the most part favourable to the draft protocol and, having examined them at its fourteenth session, the Council felt that in view of the urgency of the problem of illicit traffic and of drug addiction the international conference should not be further postponed. Most members felt that, despite certain gaps, the draft protocol represented for the time being the best means of settling, partially at least, the problem of limiting opium production so as to reduce the illicit traffic and drug addiction. Accordingly, at its 580th meeting on 27 May 1952, it adopted by thirteen votes to three, with two abstentions, resolution 436 A (XIV) in which it decided to convene an international conference to adopt a protocol relating to the limitation of the production of opium. It requested the Secretary-General to convene the conference at such time as he might find appropriate, preferably after the conclusion of the eighth session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and to invite to the conference governments of States Members of the United Nations, governments of non-member States Parties to the international treaties on narcotics, and also the representatives of the specialized agencies.

The Secretary-General stated that he pro posed to invite, in addition to the Member States of the United Nations, the following non-member States which were Parties to one or more of the inter-national narcotics treaties: Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Ceylon, Finland, Federal Republic of Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Hashemite Kingdom of the Jordan, Laos, Monaco, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Switzerland and Viet-Nam. The note also stated the intention, of the Secretary-General to invite, together with the representatives of the specialized agencies, representatives of the Permanent Central Opium Board and the Drug Supervisory Body. On 3 April 1953 the Council decided to invite Spain, Libya, Nepal and the Republic of Korea to attend the Conference.

The Conference met on 11 May 1953. It was attended by the representatives or observers from the following countries:

Argentina (Observer)

Israel (Representative)

Belgium (Representative)

Italy (Representative)

Bolivia (Observer)

Japan (Representative)

Burma (Representative)

Korea (Representative)

Cambodia (Representative)

Lebanon (Representative)

Canada (Representative)

Liechtenstein (Representa-tive)

Chile (Representative)

China (Representative)

Mexico (Representative)

Costa Rica (Observer)

Monaco (Representative)

Denmark (Representative)

Netherlands (Representative)

Dominican Republic (Representative)

Pakistan (Representative)

Philippines (Representative)

Ecuador (Representative)

Spain (Representative)

Egypt. (Representative)

Sweden (Observer)

France (Representative)

Switzerland (Representative)

Germany, Federal Republic of (Representative)

Thailand (Observer)

Turkey (Representative)

Greece (Representative)

United Kingdom (Representative)

Haiti (Observer)

India (Representative)

United States (Representative)

Indonesia (Observer)

Iran (Representative)

Viet-Nam (Representative)

Iraq (Representative)

Yugoslavia (Representative)

as well as from the World Health Organization, the Permanent Central Opium Board and the Drug Supervisory Body.