Petition to the United Nations Calling for a Moratorium on Aerial Spraying in Colombia in Compliance with International Law and Conventions


Bogotá, December 4th 2012

His Excellency Ban Ki-moon
Secretary-General of the United Nations
New York

.: Aerial spraying to eradicate crops used for illicit purposes in Colombia. In view of the Colombian government’s failure to comply with the International Conventions and Treaties subscribed and, considering the health hazards, IHL and Human Rights violations as well as the environmental risks resulting from the aerial spraying of defoliants and intensive and indiscriminate use of agroprecursors,  we the undersigned citizens and Social, Peace, Environmental, Human Rights, Harm Reduction and Drug-Policy Reform Movements and Organizations here request that the United Nations mediate on our behalf in Colombia in order to ensure that:

1.       The attention of the Santos Government be called to its obligation to declare an immediate moratorium on fumigation until the pertinent and autonomous humanitarian, epidemiological, environmental, social and economic studies addressing the impacts of aerial spraying itself are carried out and reveal their findings.

2.      The highly-questionable aerial spraying eradication measure be removed from the 2012 Drug Bill to be debated by the Colombian Congress in March 2013 since this measure contravenes existing legislation.

3.      The Santos government apply stricter controls to the production, importation and sale of agrochemical products since these are used as agroprecursors to expand and increase the productivity of drug crops.

Attached letter documenting the reasons for this petition:

Dear Mr. Secretary-General:

We are writing you out of humanitarian considerations and in the face of the numerous complaints regarding the health hazards, environmental-impact, Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law violations and the Colombian State’s failure to comply with the Nation’s 1991 Political Constitution and its reservations [1] with regard to the 1988 Vienna Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. We therefore appeal to you, and through your good offices to the International Community and international bodies in charge of protecting Human Rights, and dealing with the causes of internal refugees, displaced populations, environmental protection and limitations to the use of chemical weapons, to intervene before the governments of Colombia and the United States requesting, demanding, that they comply with the Treaties, Conventions and Protocols to which their States are parties.

One of Colombia’s reservations to the Vienna Convention is expressed by the Constitutional Court Ruling No. C-176/94 as follows: “...the Colombian State should reserve itself the right to assess the ecological impact of drug control policies since persecuting the narcotics traffic cannot be translated into a disregard of the Colombian State’s obligation to protect the environment, not only for present generations but for future generations as well.” [2] This ruling clearly orders the Colombian governments to assess the repercussions of hazardous antinarcotics measures. It also reaffirms the Constitutional Principle according to which duly ratified Environmental, Human Rights, IHL, ENMOD and CWC international treaties prevail over domestic policies and measures.

The United Nations, the European Union as well as the Colombian[3] and United States Congresses[4] have on various occasions expressed their apprehension regarding the negative effects of the Aerial Eradication Program with defoliants. Nevertheless, the Colombian governments, under the insistence of the United States and with its endorsement, have persisted in applying a policy which is clearly hazardous and shown to be ineffective for the eradication purposes proposed.[5]On his Mission to Ecuador in May 2007, Paul Hunt, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health found and informed that: "There is credible, reliable evidence that the aerial spraying of glyphosate along the Colombia-Ecuador border damages the physical health of people living in Ecuador. There is also credible, reliable evidence that the aerial spraying damages their mental health. Military helicopters sometimes accompany the aerial spraying and the entire experience can be terrifying, especially for children.”[6] The UNODC itself clearly states that: “UNODC neither participates nor supervises aerial spraying activities”.[7] The European Union has been warning Colombia for years: “..the European Union has had the opportunity to express its position to Colombian authorities, and in particular to express doubts about the effectiveness of the measure. ... The EU has also pointed out to Colombian authorities the danger of a negative impact of the aerial spraying on past and future EU cooperation projects.”[8] It has also recently reaffirmed the need to carry out independent —of US and Colombian authorities— monitoring of fumigation under UN and PAHO supervision.

Colombia is currently the only country in the world that sprays from the air potent chemical mixtures as State policy and as a war measure. Fumigation measures were first applied in Colombia in 1978 in accordance with US persuasion that the Drug War could be waged by attacking crops through the use of chemicals outside of the US. The US’s proactive role in fumigation in Colombia has been thoroughly acknowledged by, among others, its own official documents.[9] The first fumigations in Colombia were carried out by experimenting with highly dangerous chemicals, among others, Paraquat. Despite the fact that information according to which “the spraying of marijuana with paraquat is likely to cause serious harm to the health of persons who may consume the sprayed marijuana” [10]conveyed in 1979 by Health Education and Welfare (HEW) Secretary, Joseph Califano, led to abandonment of US aerial spraying in Mexico, this did not stop the US from making aerial spraying of Parquat in Colombia a Drug War condition. The aerial use of the pulmonary toxin Paraquat is currently banned world-wide. Colombia and the US have experimented with a series of chemicals. According to a 1996 Commission on Narcotics Drugs (CND) report: “Glyphosate has been applied to all three plants, and 2,4-D [component of Agent Orange, out of text] to opium poppy, both in the form of liquid sprays. For coca bush, tebuthiuron and hexazinone, which are granular and applied by aerial distribution, have been used, and for cannabis plant, the liquid spray 2 ,4 ,5 ,7 - tetrabromofluorescein, known as Eosine Yellowish, although the latter can cause some browning of leaves of adjacent vegetation.”[11]

According to the scarce public-official information available, the chemical used since 1984 is Glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup Ultra) the toxic surfactant POEA compounded by the coadjuvants Cosmo-Flux 411F and CosmoInD used to render four times more potent the corrosive effect of Roundup. Yet there persists a reasonable doubt as to what we are being fumigated with. In 1988, Eli Lilly refused to let its herbicide, tebuthiuron be used for coca spraying stating that it had not been tested in tropical environments and it feared all sorts of law suits. Nevertheless, there are references to the fact that the highly dangerous tebuthiuron has been used on Colombians. A FOIA of a July 1997 CIA document reveals that, as per USDA experimentation in Peru and Panamá, Colombia had acquiesced to the “pilot program for the use of the granular herbicide tebuthiuron in the eradication of coca”. [12]

Apparently, another chemical experimented with is Imazapyr, which poses high risks to rare and endangered plants.[13] Proof of the total lack of transparency regarding the chemicals themselves and the fact that, despite their denial, the chemicals fumigated by the United States and Colombian government affect the nation’s water sources and food crops, is a recent State Council ruling. In January 2012 the Colombian State Council condemned the Nation, the Defense Ministry and National Police for damages to staple food crops and water sources and farm animals fumigated with Gramaxone (Paraquat) in 1997.[14] In the transboundary pollution and human-harm claim Ecuador vs. Colombia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Colombian government refused to disclose the exact chemical makeup of its fumigation mixture. According to studies carried out in 2001 by the agronomist, biologist and chemical expert Elsa Nivia, the glyphosate concentration in the formula being used in Colombia is 26 times more potent than that allowed and used anywhere else. [15]

At present, December 2012, public controversy between the US and Colombian Police brings to light the fact that what counts —that which is certified by the US— is that the Glyphosate fumigated on Colombians should be Monsanto at 12 liters/ha and not a generic Chinese brand. [16] The US defends the use of their brand of Glyphosate and sustains that their product is "less toxic than table salt and aspirin”[17] and, the US government’s private Dyncorp aerial spraying contractors, certify that fields are not sprayed when people are present, Pictures taken during fumigation operations show this to be false. International organizations reveal that local communities are not forewarned and much less consulted, in clear violation of the ILO Convention No. 169 as substantiated by several Constitutional Court Rulings.[18] Scientists warn the use of any agrochemical will make farmers more dependent on this particular agrotoxin. In soils saturated with this particular pesticide, there will most probably be a need to cultivate crops resistant to this product which in this case are Glyphosate-incorporated GMOs, for which the 108,000 hectares already planted in Colombia are clearing the way. Studies also indicate the risk of transgene flow to other plants, thus endangering Colombia’s biodiversity.

The Colombian and US governments justify fumigation in Colombia with the argument that the narcotics traffic uses polluting precursors and growers use fertilizers and herbicides; suggesting that two wrongs make a right.[19] There is literature to suggest that (any brand) glyphosate used for agricultural purposes can cause chronic health effects and birth defects when administered at high doses over prolonged periods.[20] In Colombia, where the same field may be sprayed up to four or more times and millions of hectares have been sprayed for over three decades this risk seems extremely high. Glyphosate is sprayed indiscriminately over vast areas all over the country and has been proven to have killed non-targeted vegetation. It has inevitably thus destroyed endangered species, and fish and aquatic invertebrates are highly sensitive to glyphosate and its formulations. Findings by Danish researchers on the fact that Glyphosate is washed down into the upper ground water and not, as previously believed, that bacteria in the soil broke down the glyphosate before it reached the ground water, led the Danish government to ban the use of glyphosate in 2003[21]. In Germany, a 2012 university study found significant concentrations of glyphosate in the urine samples of city dwellers with concentrations of glyphosate at 5 to 20 times the limit for drinking water.[22] Health reports in eastern Venezuela in 2009 indicate that the higher incidence of birth defects in this region, comparable only to those in Colombia, might be due to the toxic chemicals coming in rivers that pass through Colombia.[23]

Although Colombian peasants and indigenous peoples consistently complain[24] not only of water pollution, cattle poisoning, the loss of food crops, abortions and birth defects in both humans and animals after fumigation operations, but also of skin rashes, respiratory problems, diarrhea, decreased weight gain in infants, nasal discharge and digestive disorders, among others, the fact is that, after 34-years of non-stop aerial spraying, no one really knows the mixtures, formulas, concentration, and volumes of the chemicals sprayed on our peoples, territories and water sources. As concerns the period from 1978 to 1995, apart from the prior and latter warnings issued by the National Health Institute[25], the National Resources Institute[26], the Office of the Ombudsman[27] and numerous social and environmental organizations, there is practically no available official information on where and what we were sprayed with. As to the extension of fumigation, UNODC figures reveal that only during the last sixteen years, between 1995 and 2011, the United States and Colombia sprayed more than 1,652,840 hectares[28] out of the 114 million hectares that make up the territory of a total of 48 million Colombians.

In spite of unceasing scientific warnings, the Colombian government persists in this failed measure despite the fact that the only studies that support fumigation were carried out in 2005 and 2009[29], (only 27 and 31 years after the first sprayings) and were done by the Inter-American Drug Abuse Commission (CICAD, Spanish acronym) whose sole role is to counter, by any and all means, the abuse of drugs by 15 to 39 million individuals out of the 230 million voluntary drug users world-wide. CICAD researcher Keith Salomon’s statement in 2005 that the situation, the exposure, is “considerably below thresholds of concern[30] added to his 2009 assertion, as informed by the US Embassy, that “Glyphosate spraying for coca control in Colombia poses negligible risk to humans and the environment”, [31] is far from consistent with what Colombians live and suffer on a daily basis. What’s even more horrifying is Solomon’s announcement of the possibility of further human experimentation: Should the glyphosate product require changing, Roundup Biactive may be considered. Should the adjuvant require changing, then on the basis of this research, Silwet L-77 and Mixture B would be good candidates for further evaluation”.[32] This, added to the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service 2009-2014 study at DNA Fingerprinting of Coca Leaves to Establish Coca Genotypes in Colombia, is a justified source of concern for Colombia.[33]

Aerial spraying is one of the main causes of criminal forced internal displacement in Colombia[34] and the ensuing dispossession of small-peasant lands by the armed groups[35] serving large narco landowners. It strengthens the drug traffic and the armed control it exerts over small crop growers who have thus been abandoned and persecuted by the State. Fumigation is a Drug War measure which, in clear violation of IHL, is directed against unarmed peasants who are in no way part of the hostilities. It aggravates the existing vulnerabilities of the Colombian peasantry at large and fuels Colombia’s internal strife. Small-crop growers are not a part of the narcotics traffic. The peasants that cultivate these crops do so out of need in a country where social injustice is comparable to that of Haiti and Angola. According to the UNODC, the average size of coca fields in 2011 is 0.67 has. The average net income per hectare of coca for a grower is equivalent to US$294 per month.[36] Thus, a peasant family of 4 lives on less than USD $200/month which is even less than the legal minimum wage in Colombia. And yet they are persecuted as part of the drug traffic.

UNODC surveys inform that cutbacks on the use of agrochemicals, those same chemicals used by the government with the stated intention of eradicating, contribute to reducing crop productivity. The agroprecursors used by the Colombian government as well as those used by crop growers are toxic, as proven by past and recent studies such as those on GMOs and Glyphosate carried out by Caen University of Professor Séralini [Tous Cobayes? 2012].[37] Not only have the US and Colombian governments paid no heed to scientific and social warnings but, in line with the illegitimacy of this measure, when local communities protest, they are accused of being allied with the guerilla forces and narcotics traffic[38] and, when they complain of the health and environmental damages suffered, the entity who receives and decides on the complaints (only receivable since 2001) is the same entity that fumigates: “The National Drugs Directorate (DNE) and the Anti-narcotics Department of the National Police are the authorities in charge of receiving and processing the claims lodged” [Res. 017 2001][39]

Coca, marihuana and poppy do not just grow organically anywhere. They thrive and expand with the use of fertilizers and herbicides. Totally disregarding that the intensive and indiscriminate use of agroprecursors is instrumental to the establishment and expansion of these crops, the 2007 Agricultural Ministry’s “Basis for the Design of an Agrochemical Price Policy”, limits itself to making sure that the prices of the agroprecursor market are kept as competitive and low as possible.[40] Juan Manuel Santos’s Government, instead of reducing to a minimum the Value Added Taxes (VAT) on chemical fertilizers and herbicides (as it recently did with the December 2012 Tax Reform), should consider the increased-productivity and expanding effect that these agroprecursors have had to the detriment of the fight against drug trafficking. The first fumigations in Colombia were carried out with the aim of chemically eradicating 19,000 has of marihuana[41] in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve [designated 1979] when coca in Colombia was limited to Indigenous religious and eating habits and poppy was but a flower. Today, after having spilled millions and millions of liters of chemical mixtures the length and breadth of Colombia’s national territory, there are 64,000 has de coca, 338 has of poppy and an unestimated number of hectares of marijuana. Questions may reasonably be raised on the role played by aerial spraying, as well as poverty and the lack of voluntary eradication alternatives, in the expansion of crops used for illicit purposes in Colombia.

As pointed out by Colombian Courts and social and local community proposals, the Colombian government has the obligation to value its legacy of one of the Planet’s most biodiverse and fragile ecosystems by undertaking sustainable and productive voluntary eradication strategies of crops used for illicit purposes. It should consider the possibility of taking advantage of the medical, nutritional and industrial uses of the Coca Leaf in compliance with the Constitutional Court’s consideration that “the coca leaf could have legal alternative commercial uses which could precisely serve to contain the expansion of the narcotics traffic”. Attempts at limiting the sale of the coca products produced by the Indigenous communities to their own territories, as the 2012 Drug Bill[42] pretends to ordain and as the National Drug Office (DNE)[43] , in response to foreign intervention, has attempted to impose, is not only counterproductive and opposed to common sense, but also clearly in violation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which protects “their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests”.

 Throughout these 34 years, aerial spraying has been applied and sanctioned by Administrative Regulations and environmental norms that are basically passed after the fact. This year, however, the Colombian government drafted the 2012 Drug Bill[44] which proposes making aerial spraying for crop eradication a law. Juan Manuel Santos´s Government should learn from past mistakes and abstain from incorporating aerial spraying measures in the new Drug Bill. It should declare a moratorium on fumigation until it has been thoroughly, legally and scientifically proven that this measure is completely safe, effective and compliant with international norms. Studies should be carried out on aerial spraying itself, with social and economic drug-considerations, but not to the exclusion of other important factors such as humanitarian, health, environmental impacts, Human Rights and IHL, as well as the impact of fumigation on Colombia’s future trade potential. Colombia should safeguard its own national legitimate interests in an environmentally-oriented world by promoting sustainable eradication formulas within a framework of international co-responsibility and its right to the nonintervention of other states in its sovereign right to protect and make decent and sustainable use of its natural and human resources for the benefit of all of Humanity.

In consideration of all of the above mentioned, and further substantial arguments, we hereby request that the Honorable Secretary Ban Ki-moon mediate with President Juan Manuel Santos so that the Colombian government might respect existing legislation and, in compliance with the Precautionary Principle, the Convention on Biological Diversity, The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the 1972 Stockholm Declaration and 1992 Rio Declaration on Human and Sustainable Development, refrain from continuing to fumigate the Colombian people, until studies are carried out and alternative measures are designed and developed so that eradication may be carried out in a manner that respects their Human Rights. We the undersigned expect that the national and international backing received and the positioning of international bodies in favor of our plea may be given the consideration they deserve on the part of those charged with overseeing compliance to international norms and that they call the Colombian government’s attention to repercussions for the Peace Tables to End the Conflict and the humanitarian implications of spraying defoliants on the defenseless civilian population which it has vowed to protect.


Copies to:

·         President Juan Manuel Santos

·         President Barack Obama

·         United Nations Environmental Programme / Law and Conventions -DELC

·         UN Refugee Agency (ACNUR) Colombia: Calle 113 #7-21 Torre A of. 6001 Bta.

·         Haute Représentante de l'Union pour les affaires étrangères et la politique de sécurité/vice-présidente de la Commission / Catherine Ashton

·         World Health Organization (WHO)

·         Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) Teofilo Monteiro Cra 7 #74-21 p.9

·         UNODC Representative for Colombia /Bo Mathiasen

·         International Court of Justice/ The Hague

·         Inter-American Court of Human Rights

·         Union of South American Nations (UNASUR)

·         UNESCO United Nations Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organization

·         Human Rights –Ombudsman Colombia/Jorge Armando Otálora

·         First Commission of the Col0mbian Chamber of Representatives /German Navas Talero

·         Congreso de Colombia / Juan Manuel Galán

·         Dialogue Tables to Promote a Peaceful End to the Conflict in Colombia

·         United States Congress /Congressman James McGovern (D –MA)

·         Ministry of Health and Social Protection /Alejandro Gaviria

·         Ministry of Justice and Law / Ruth Stella Correa

·         Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development /Juan Camilo Restrepo

·         Ministry of Foreign Affairs /María Ángela Holguín

·         Ministry of the Interior /Fernando Carrillo Flórez

·         Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Turism /Sergio Diazgranados

·         Norwegian Agency for Development and Cooperation (NORAD)

·         Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)/Daniel Brombacher

·         Comité international de la Croix- Rouge / Jordi Curó Raich

·         Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) / Javier Sagredo

·         Keith Solomon -University of Guelph Canada

[4] Jeremy Bigwood: Toxic Drift,  Mosanto and the Drug War in Colombia,

[5] Alexander Rincón, Giorgos Kallis: The Distributive effects of aerial spraying policy in Colombia: Reduction of coca crops and socio-ecological impacts in vulnerable communities:

[13]“The latest decision of the Colombian government to adopt Imazapyr as the only granular herbicide for testing was one more indication that the Colombians did the minimum, often dragged their feet and appeared, at least to the U.S.G., no to be cooperative.”

[14] 18001-23-31-000-1999-00397-01(22219)

[15] “..with glyphosate concentrations 26 times higher than those normally recommended is being applied through aerial spraying— acute toxic effects of contact as well as glyphosate's penetration and systemic action might be dramatically increased”.

[17] Audrey Liounis and Murray Cox : Silk for Cocaine and the Use of Herbicides in Colombia

US Department of Agriculture: Glyphosate: a once-in-a-century herbicide “Glyphosate is less acutely toxic than common chemicals such as sodium chloride or aspirin...” 2007  Coincidentally, aspirin is said to cause 4 times more overdoses than any other legal or illegal drug on the market.

[18] Juan Carlos Rincón: Línea jurisprudencial sobre la consulta previa a comunidades indígenas en Colombia SU-383 de 2003, Sentencia T-376/12 and other.

[19] “When these risks are compared to other risks associated with the clearing of land, the uncontrolled and unmonitored risks of use of other pesticides to protect the coca and poppy, and exposure to substances used in the  refining of  the raw product into cocaine and heroin, they are essentially negligible.”

[28] UNODC Colombia Coca Cultivation Surveys

[36] idem.

[38] ..”so as not to give the narcos and the guerrillas, who had inspired the peasant demonstrations, the belief that by arranging demonstrations they could stop or even slow down the drug eradication program.”