The Plenipotentiary Conference for the adoption of a Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs

Abstract

The United Nations inherited from the League of Nations a system of international narcotic drug control which had proved itself capable of operating efficiently in its field. This was based on six existing treaties,1 to which were added three more under the auspices of the United Nations: the 1946 Protocol for transferring the functions of the League of Nations to the United Nations, the 1948 Protocol whose effect was to bring under control new, mainly synthetic drugs and the 1953 Opium Protocol, which has not yet come into force, which was primarily intended to provide for effective control of the production of opium. As early as at the second session of the General Assembly, the suggestion had been made that some steps be taken to simplify the existing system of international control, for it was understandable that treaty provisions adopted successively over nearly forty years would have inevitably accumulated inconsistencies and obscurities. In fact, the treaty system did not even completely represent all the progress made.

Details

Pages: 40 to 43
Creation Date: 1962/01/01

The Plenipotentiary Conference for the adoption of a Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs

The United Nations inherited from the League of Nations a system of international narcotic drug control which had proved itself capable of operating efficiently in its field. This was based on six existing treaties,1 to which were added three more under the auspices of the United Nations: the 1946 Protocol for transferring the functions of the League of Nations to the United Nations, the 1948 Protocol whose effect was to bring under control new, mainly synthetic drugs and the 1953 Opium Protocol, which has not yet come into force, which was primarily intended to provide for effective control of the production of opium. As early as at the second session of the General Assembly, the suggestion had been made that some steps be taken to simplify the existing system of international control, for it was understandable that treaty provisions adopted successively over nearly forty years would have inevitably accumulated inconsistencies and obscurities. In fact, the treaty system did not even completely represent all the progress made.

So in 1948, the Economic and Social Council requested [ 2] the United Nations Secretariat to begin work on the draft of a new Single Convention in which provision should be made for a single body to perform all functions not entrusted to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, for the replacement of existing international narcotics control instruments and for the limitation of the production of narcotic raw materials.

In the following year, the Council approved both the principles suggested by the Commission for the new convention and the preparation of a draft treaty by the secretariat, [ 3] The work on the Single Convention occupied the Commission during the ensuing nine years in dealing with the questions raised by the first draft and moulding from it an instrument which was susceptible of acceptance. One of the general problems which had to be faced by those who worked on the drafts of the Single Convention, and which was later constantly present in the conference discussions in New York, was that while the preparation of a single unified convention provides an opportunity to retain what experience had shown to be of value and to add such new provisions as seem appropriate in modem conditions, at the same time there is always a risk of reopening old questions which have been once resolved reasonably satisfactorily. Moreover, in trying to accommodate too vigorous attempts to strengthen the system, the result may be that some States, hitherto bound by controls, fail to ratify, and so the scope of international control is reduced and the result is a weaker and not a stronger system. Thus the issue often became the invidious choice between a stronger convention - or at least one theoretically stronger - and wider acceptance.

In 1956 a second draft was produced and circulated for comment, and in 1957 and 1958 a third and last draft, which was to become the main working paper of the Plenipotentiary Conference, was adopted by the Commission. The Council then directed [ 4] that this third draft be transmitted for comments to all members of the United Nations, of the specialized agencies, and of the International Atomic Energy Agency; as well as to those agencies themselves, the PCOB, the DSB, and the ICPO (Interpol), and at the same time the Council authorized the calling of a plenipotentiary conference for the adoption of a Single Convention, to which were invited the States, the specialized agencies interested in the matter, the PCOB, the DSB and the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol). The Council, as had also the Commission, in addition gave some preliminary consideration to the form and length of the Conference. It was decided that a period of eight to ten weeks should be scheduled and a balance of arguments favoured a "one-tier" type of conference in which not more than one meeting at a time would take place, rather than a "two-tier "conference where meetings would be held simultaneously. This would mean that delegations could be staffed so that one representative could participate in all the debates of substance.

The observations of the 55 States and 16 organizations which sent comments on the third draft were compiled analytically and submitted to the Conference, [ 5] together with various other organizational and technical papers. Meanwhile, invitations to the Plenipotentiary Conference had been duly despatched to the 107 States and to the organizations mentioned above. Of these invitees, the following 73 States sent representatives, and Ceylon sent an observer:

Afghanistan
Byelorussian Soviet
Costa Pica
Albania
Socialist Republic
Czechoslovakia
Argentina
Cambodia
Dahomey
Australia
Canada
Denmark
Bolivia
Chad
Dominican Republic
Brazil
Chile
El Salvador
Bulgaria
China
Finland
Burma
Congo (Leopoldville)
France
Germany, Federal
Madagascar
Sweden
Republic of
Mexico
Switzerland
Ghana
Monaco
Thailand
Greece
Morocco
Tunisia
Guatemala
Netherlands
Turkey
Haiti
New Zealand
Ukrainian Soviet
Holy See
Nicaragua
Socialist Republic
Hungary
Nigeria
Union of Soviet
India
Norway
Socialist Republics
Indonesia
Pakistan
United Arab Republic
Iran
Panama
United Kingdom of
Iraq
Paraguay
Great Britain and
Israel
Peru
Northern Ireland
Italy
Philippines
United States of
Japan
Poland
America
Jordan
Portugal
Uruguay
Korea, Republic of
Romania
Venezuela
Lebanon
Senegal
Yugoslavia
Liberia
Spain
Yugoslavia

In addition, the following six intergovernmental organizations attended. Specialized agencies: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Labour Organisation, World Health Organization. Other international bodies: Permanent Central Opium Board, Drug Supervisory Body; and the following three non-governmental organizations sent observers: International Conference of Catholic Charities, International Criminal Police Organization, International Federation of Women Lawyers.

At the first meeting of the Conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 24 January 1961, Mr. C.V. Narasimhan, Under-Secretary of the United Nations for Special Political Affairs, welcomed the delegates and outlined the tasks before them. Mr. Carl Schurmann of the Netherlands was then unanimously elected Chairman of the Conference, and provisional rules of procedure were adopted, based generally on those used by recent United Nations plenipotentiary conferences such as the 1960 Conference of the Law of the Sea, and the 1958 Conference on International Commercial Arbitration. In addition, eighteen vice-presidents were elected as follows, providing representation of the main regions of the world and also having regard to representation of the drug manufacturing and raw material producing countries, and countries in which narcotics constitute a serious problem.

Afghanistan
Japan
United Arab Republic
Brazil
Mexico
United Kingdom of
Dahomey
Pakistan
Great Britain and
France
Peru
Northern Ireland
Hungary
Switzerland
Union of Soviet
India
Thailand
Socialist Republics
Iran
Turkey
United States
   
of America

Representatives of these States, together with the chairman, formed the general committee which guided the general conduct and policy of the conference.

At its first meeting on the following day, the general committee agreed that the work of the Conference should be based on the third draft and consist of dividing the 57 articles in the third draft into the following twelve groupings:

A view of the signing of the Final Act: The Ambassador of Nigeria, Alhaji Muhammad Ngileruma, and the President of the Conference, Ambassador C. W. A. Schurmann (Netherlands).

Full size image: 30 kB, A view of the signing of the Final Act: The Ambassador of Nigeria, Alhaji Muhammad Ngileruma, and the President of the Conference, Ambassador C. W. A. Schurmann (Netherlands).
  1. Scope of the convention and method of bringing additional substances under control;

  2. National control:

    General;

  3. Opium poppy and poppy straw;

  4. Coca leaf;

  5. Cannabis;

  6. National measures:

    Treatment of drug addicts;

  7. International organs and obligations of governments to them:

    Information to be furnished by governments;

  8. Measures exercisable by the Board in case of noncompliance;

  9. Constitution, functions and secretariat;

  10. Direct measures against the illicit traffic;

  11. Final clauses;

  12. Definitions.

It was decided that each of these "subjects" would first be given a general reading in plenary, where broad statements of policy could be made and points of principle raised. If at this stage it was found that further debate was necessary on these particular provisions, they would be referred to an ad hoc committee, appointed by the Chairman, but on which any delegation could ask to sit. Each ad hoc committee would elect its own chairman, but would abide by the rules of procedure already accepted by the plenary. When each ad hoc committee had completed its work, producing a new draft where necessary, it would report back to the plenary the result of its deliberations, and its report would form a basis for a second reading in plenary. From here the provisions would be sent, if no general agreement could be reached, back to the ad hoc committee for further discussion, but more likely, straight to the drafting committee for polishing prior to being given a final third reading in plenary.

Mr. C. V. Narasimhan, Under-Secretary of the United Nations for Special Political Affairs, exchanging views with some of the delegates.

Full size image: 35 kB, Mr. C. V. Narasimhan,Under-Secretary of the United Nations for Special Political Affairs, exchanging views with some of the delegates.

These ad hoc committees would arrange to convene at a different time from one another and from the plenary so that they could be attended by the same delegates throughout. The only exception to this "one-tier" conference arrangement was in the case of an additional ad hoc committee, a "technical committee", whose main task was to bring up to date the list of drugs in the four schedules, the drugs in each schedule being subject to the different measures of control. This committee, on account of its specialized medical and scientific membership, did meet simultaneously with the other committees.

These proposals of the general committee were adopted by the plenary, and the Conference proceeded to its work along these lines. First among the issues debated in an ad hoc committee was the question of the scope of control which drugs should be involved, and how changes in scope should be effected. A mandatory prohibition of particularly dangerous drugs (such as heroin, ketobemidone and desomorphine) which had been proposed in the third draft, [ 6] but widely opposed in the written comments, [ 7] found little support in the Conference, and was dropped.

Next to be tackled, and which proved to be the most difficult of all to resolve, came the problems arising from the national control provisions which should be required of goverments. In the case of the general provisions, as well as of those for regulating cannabis, coca leaf and poppy straw, no great difficulty was encountered. When it came to opium, however, and particularly to the limitation of its production as regards international trade, the Conference was faced with a clash between the principles of the limitation of the number of producing countries, with the idea that ail countries, and in particular the under-developed ones, should have complete freedom in the exercise of their natural resources. This issue was only resolved by a mutual compromise by which it was agreed that before any party intends to begin producing opium for export an international organ must be notified and in case of relatively important production the organ's approval must be obtained.

When it came to the consideration of the new International Narcotics Control Board to replace the existing Permanent Central Opium Board and Drug Supervisory Body, there was agreement that the estimates and statistics system which had proved so successful should be continued virtually without change. However, the suggestion of a mandatory "embargo" in drugs to be enforced against governments as sanction by a new board found little favour with the Conference, and was discarded in favour of a "recommendatory" embargo whereby the board can recommend embargo, not only against drug-importing countries, but also against drug-exporting countries. With regard to the new supporting administrative arrangements required, it was felt that a single secretariat to serve both the new board and the Commission would not affect the technical independence of the board, and would have the advantage of simplicity and economy.

Last of all matters causing major ad hoc committee debates was that concerned with the measures against illicit traffickers. Here again, a conference compromise was achieved by allowing the more rigid provisions of the 1936 treaty [ 8] alone among the existing narcotics conventions to remain in force as between the parties to it, and in this way providing more widely acceptable obligations without removing existing ones.

The Conferences found that its work was eased by the fact that much of the existing system of international narcotics control could be passed on into the new convention; and of the thirteen subjects, including technical questions, into which the general committee had divided the convention, nine needed the detailed attention of an ad hoc committee. The remaining three - treatment of drug addicts, final clauses and definitions - were able to be disposed of at the first reading in plenary and sent directly to the drafting committee, though in the case of clauses dealing with reservations and procedure for acceptance, not without considerable debate. The other ten subjects and the question of credentials were handled by ad hoc committees, which elected a chairman or acting chairman from among the following countries:

Afghanistan
Byelorussian SSR
Finland
Australia
Costa Rica
India
Brazil
Dahomey
Japan
Bulgaria
Denmark
Switzerland
   
Uruguay

All of these ad hoc committees were able to produce a report acceptable to the plenary without reconvening, except in the case of the coca leaf committee, which had briefly to meet once again. Finally, the Conference adopted five resolutions dealing with technical assistance on narcotic drugs, treatment of drug addicts, illicit drug traffic and international control machinery.

A view of the conference room.

Full size image: 91 kB, A view of the conference room.

It had been anticipated that the Conference would take eight weeks, with a possible additional week being allowed if necessary. In fact, the Conference completed its work on 25 March, eight weeks and five days after it had begun. The new Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, together witht he Final Act, was open for signature on 30 March 1961.

We now have a new unified convention acceptable enough to attract the signatures of 64 governments during the four months that it was open for signature, [ 9] and a convention which nevertheless substantially fulfils the three main aims of the Council. Firstly, the simplification of the international control machinery was achieved by the fusion of the Permanent Central Opium Board and the Drug Supervisory Body into a single body, together with some related administrative changes. Secondly, the replacement of international narcotics control instruments was completely effected, except that the more specific provisions of the 1936 convention on illicit traffic could be continued. As regards the third task, the extension of the control system to the cultivation of plants grown for the raw materials of the natural drugs (opium, cannabis and coca leaves) was accomplished. Moreover, the Convention stipulates that after a definite transitional period, all non-medical use of narcotic drugs, such as opium smoking, opium eating, consumption of cannabis (hashish, marijuana) and chewing of coca leaves, will be outlawed everywhere. This is a goal which workers in international narcotics control all over the world have striven to achieve for half a century.

1

International Opium Convention, signed at The Hague, 23 January 1912; Agreement concerning the Manufacture of, Internal Trade in, and Use of Prepared Opium, signed at Geneva, 11 February 1925; International Opium Convention, signed at Geneva, 19 February 1925; International Convention for limiting the Manufacture and regulating the Distribution of Narcotic Drugs, signed at Geneva, 13 July 1931; Agreement for the Control of Opium-smoking in the Far East, signed at Bangkok on 27 November 1931; The Convention of 1936 for the Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs.

2

By resolution 159 D (VII).

3

Economic and Social Council resolution 246 D (IX).

4

Economic and Social Council resolution 689J (XXVI).

5

As E/CONF.34/1 and Add.l-4.

6

Article 2.1 ( e).

7

E/CONF.34/1, pp. 33 to 41.

8

Convention of 1936 for the Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs.

9

As of 25 March 1962, Canada, Cameroun, Morocco, the Republic of Korea and Thailand have ratified or acceded to the treaty.