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Speech by Pratibha Mehta, United Nations Resident Coordinator at International Human Rights Day Conference: “International Conventions and National Laws on Human Rights - Role of National Assembly”

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Date: Wednesday 10 December  2014
Event: International Human Rights Day Conference: “International Conventions and National Laws on Human Rights - Role of National Assembly”
Venue: Intercontinental Hotel, Ha Noi

Honorable Vice Chair of Foreign Affairs Committee  Mr. Ngo Duc Manh,  
Honorable Members of the National Assembly,
Representatives from civil society organisations
Representatives from international organisations
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to join you all at this conference to enhance information exchange and discussions with members of the National Assembly on the new provisions of the 2013 Constitution and international conventions on human rights.  This conference is being held on a very special day, 10th December is International Human Rights Day, and this year’s slogan is “Human Rights 365”, the Day embraces the idea that every day is Human Rights day and each individual, everywhere, at all times is entitled to the full range of human rights. In that spirit, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on “States to honour their obligation to protect human rights every day of the year” and “people to hold their governments to account.”  It cannot be a more perfect time than today to discuss the role of National Assembly in honoring, protecting and promoting human rights in conformity with the 2013 Constitution and the international laws to which Vietnam is a party. Indeed the recent unanimous ratification of the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment as well as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability indicated strongly that the National Assembly is taking bold steps in its role in ensuring human rights protection in Vietnam.

I would like to commend the Committee for Foreign Affairs for the initiative to conduct the legal review of 2013 Constitution’s new provisions and international conventions on human rights to which  Vietnam is a party. This is a remarkable effort to provide the MPs with the first ever comprehensive picture of international conventions that VN has signed, those it has ratified and the gaps that need to be filled in order to further improve the laws concerning human rights and citizens’ rights in Vietnam. This legal review  will benefit greatly from opinions and comments of NA members today and will make the the final product even more relevant for the NA members in performing their overnights functions.  

An important objective of the research and the conference today is also to keep the MPs abreast with the Universal Periodical Review - the UN forum for Member states to engage in interactive dialogues on achievements and challenges in the promotion and protection of human rights. At country level, UPR was established in 2006 with an aim to improve the overall human rights situation in all countries that submit for review. In contrast to treaty body reviews, which are often focused on a single human rights theme, the UPR provides a more holistic view of a country’s progress in promoting, protecting and respecting human rights through engagement of various stakeholders in the process. Reports submitted to UPR are not only prepared by the government but also by civil society. In Vietnam also, local civil society prepared a stakeholder report on their review of human rights.  

Viet Nam has joined 193 countries that have submitted national reports to the UPR. Vietnam has been open in receiving recommendations and is making efforts to improve.  At the recent UPR review in 2014, Vietnam received recommendations covering a wide range of themes. A stronger integration into the international human rights machinery, protecting and guaranteeing freedom of information, expression, and association, reducing the number of crimes subject to the death penalty, improving legal and judicial systems as well as a continued strong focus on vulnerable groups, gender equality, poverty reduction and access to basic services are recommendations Viet Nam has accepted and is looking to following-up on before the next UPR in 2018. Undoubtedly, the recommendations will guide Viet Nam in identifying and addressing human rights challenges and strengthening the national legal framework for the protection and promotion of the rights of all Vietnamese citizens.

It is equally important for the National Assembly to maintain focus on the recommendations that the Government has not yet accepted.  For example, releasing persons in arbitrary detention and introducing more transparency around detention centres, ratifying optional protocols and abolishing the death penalty are all legitimate claims aligned to the principles expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN in Viet Nam hopes to stay engaged with the  Government and other stakeholders in continuing their effort to promote and protect human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration.

Role of National Assembly is instrumental in rights-based development of the country. First of all, the NA’s legislative role at all level is fundamental in developing and passing new laws that advance human rights. Human rights also need to be mainstreamed into the NA’s representational and oversight functions as well as during national budgeting processes and in ensuring that the Government is provided adequate resources to enforce laws. The government is now in the process of developing an Action Plan that outlines how the accepted UPR recommendations will be implemented. It will be important for the NA to join the development of this Action Plan. With many recommendations targeted at parliamentarians, the NA will be a key partner to follow through the implementation of accepted recommendations.

But apart from the NA, civil society plays an equally important role in following-up on the UPR. Civil society’s specific expertise, wide ranging networks and linkages to the grassroots make them an important ally in implementing human rights obligations. The UPR Action Plan will therefore need to be an inclusive exercise that reaches beyond the realms of government Ministries and also includes Assembly Members and civil society organisations.

I am therefore very glad that a specialist on human rights will later share with you knowledge of how other parliaments engage in the protection of human right through the UPR process.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The legal review conducted by the Committee of Foreign Affairs will serve as a highly useful reference material for MPs to review and adopt legislations in line with the Human Rights guarantees made in the 2013 Constitution and those emerging from Viet Nam’s response to the UPR.     

The UN in Viet Nam is fully committed to supporting national efforts to ensure, protect and promote human rights through our One UN Plan for 2012-2016. I would like to offer the full support of the UN system in Viet Nam to facilitate  knowledge sharing and provide technical advice on best practices from around the world to the National Assembly as a way to support its legislation and oversight function in strengthening human rights in Viet Nam.

In closing, I would like to thank the National Assembly Committee for Foreign Affairs for hosting this significant conference. I am confident that the discussions will provide an important contribution to strengthening role of NA in promotions human rights in Vietnam.  

I wish you all the best of health, success and a very Happy International Human Rights Day, which we should observe everyday of the year.