UNAIDS Viet Nam Speech at UN Country Team Viet Nam Rights-Based Approaches Training, 15 October 2008

Human rights and the human rights-based approach are the essential framework of all development work undertaken by the United Nations. As such, the mandate of this training is not so much to mainstream the human rights-based approach as it is to train UN staff on the essentials – the ground beneath our feet. Human rights are not a side-concern. Each member state of the United Nations – and first and foremost our host country – has entrusted us with the defence of the rights of the people of Viet Nam. For this reason, and on behalf of the United Nations country team, I want to thank the organisers and participants for making this training a reality.

Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, once said, “We could not have peace, or an atmosphere in which peace could grow, unless we recognized the rights of individual human beings… their importance, their dignity… and agreed that was the basic thing that had to be accepted throughout the world.” 

The subject of human rights is highly sensitive in Viet Nam. Asia is the only region of the world that has neither a human rights charter nor a regional court to try human rights violations, although hopefully this will change in December of this year, when all ASEAN member states are expected to have ratified the ASEAN Charter. 

Sensitivity, however, does not imply irrelevance. Viet Nam was the fifth member state to ratify the ASEAN Charter on 15 March. Viet Nam has also signed six of the eight core international human rights treaties and the Constitution of Viet Nam, amended in 2001, guarantees the rights of the people to education, healthcare, housing, privacy and information. The people of Viet Nam have the constitutional right to vote, work, own property, assemble, demonstrate, practice the religion of their choice, form associations and lodge complaints. They have freedom of speech, movement, residence, innovation and the press.

Article 50 of the Constitution says, “In the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, human rights in all respects, political, civic, economic, cultural and social are respected, find their expression in the rights of citizens and are provided for by the Constitution and the law.”

Laws, of course, are only papers, and paper can be blown away. To effect change, we need to take these laws off their papers. 

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the sixth UN Secretary-General, said, “It has long been recognized that an essential element in protecting human rights is a widespread knowledge among the population of what their rights are and how they can be defended.” 

Our challenge is to support our national partners to know and respect, protect and fulfil their inherent and legally stipulated rights – to make sure these laws move off their papers and breathe. We must ensure that all our efforts – from the briefest press release to the most complex multisectoral programme – are constructed within a rights-based framework. 

To fulfil the UN’s mandate, we must implement programmes that empower the most vulnerable and marginalized members of society, that emphasise quality and non-discrimination in programmatic expenditure and applications, and that are based on the principles outlined in international human rights instruments. We must address power imbalances at all levels of society, and we must advocate for personal and institutional accountability. 

I encourage you to participate actively in this training, and to return to your respective agencies invigorated and empowered to apply what you learn here to your daily work. Best wishes for a successful workshop and thank you for your commitment.

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Green One UN House, 304 Kim Ma, Ba Dinh, Ha Noi, Viet Nam