Mapping the Ratification Status of the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances

Shreya Aher, Dylan Torres & Paula Milanez Zafalon

In this post, we assess the ratification status of the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. It was adopted on December 20, 1988, by an international conference primarily made up of United Nations (UN) member states that met in Vienna to negotiate the document’s provisions. The convention came into force on November 11, 1990, after 20 states ratified it. 

During the early 1980s, international drug trafficking organizations reorganized and began operating on an unprecedented scale. The rise of the Medellin cartel, the influx of cocaine into the United States (US), and the violence associated with drug trafficking and drug use challenged law enforcement at all levels. The convention was a reaction to the “war on drugs” and the US-led these negotiations. Its main goal was to establish a global regime to counter drug trafficking. In so doing, the convention required states to criminalize drug trafficking, money laundering, and the production and consumption of illicit narcotics and other substances. It also required states to enact legislation to freeze financial assets and confiscate the property of individuals associated with drug cartels and narco-trafficking. In addition, the convention encouraged state parties to provide each other “the widest measure of legal assistance in investigations, prosecutions, and judicial proceedings”. 

To better understand which states have ratified these instruments, we created a choropleth map, using the ggplot2 package for R. Using data from the UN Treaty Collection’s website, we classify UN member states into three distinct categories. First, states that have not ratified or signed one of the instruments are cataloged as having taken “no action”. Second, a “signatory state” is a country that has signed the instrument, but not ratified it. Third, a “state party” is classified as a state that has ratified the treaty or acceded to its rules. 

As the map shows, the vast majority of states have ratified this convention. While the US played an important role in these proceedings, many of these states were directly affected by narcotrafficking. Others were concerned by the growing power of the drug cartels and their long-term impact on the stability of the international system. 

To conclude, the 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances has been effective in addressing the issue of drug trafficking in most parts of the world. Developing a global consensus on a convention like this demonstrates that UN member states can work closely with the United Nations to make the world a better and safer place.

Want to learn more about this legal instrument?

Data on this convention’s ratification status is available on the World Politics Data Lab’s GitHub page. The most recent dataset was uploaded to the repository on October 31, 2022.

For more information on the convention’s history and for a more recent analysis of its provisions, please refer to the following academic writings:

About the authors:

Dylan Torres is a double major in Political Science and Women and Gender Studies at Drew University

Paula Milanez Zafalon is a double major in International Relations and Sociology, a Spanish minor at Drew University

Shreya Aher is majoring in International Relations and minoring in Middle East Studies at Drew University

Editor’s note: This post is part of a long-term project. Students enrolled in Drew University’s Semester on the United Nations, Principles in International Law and International Human Rights have been and will be collecting data on the ratification status of treaties deposited in the United Nations Treaty Collection. For more information on this project and its learning goals, click here.

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