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Speech by Ms. Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative at workshop on National Human Rights Institutions

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Date: 25 September 2015
Event: Workshop on National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI)
Venue: Grand Plaza Hotel, 117 Tran Duy Hung St., Hanoi

Mr. Truong Quang Vinh, Standing Vice Director, Hanoi Law University;
Ms. Hoang Thi Thanh Nga, Deputy Director General, Department of International Organizations, MOFA;
Distinguished representatives of government institutions, the academic community, diplomatic missions, civil society, media and UN colleagues

Ladies and gentlemen:
A very good morning to you all.
I would like to welcomeyou to this Conference on International Practices and Lessons Learnt for Viet Nam for the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution, or NHRI. Today’s forum is an important part of the on-going dialogue about Viet Nam’s growing engagement with the international community on the matter of fundamental human rights.  

It is important to underscore at the outset that independent national human rights institutions are increasingly recognized by the United Nations as one of the most effective ways to achieve progress towards the recognition, awareness, and protection of universal human rights. We note with great pleasure that during the last Universal Periodic Review cycle Viet Nam accepted calls to establish an independent national human rights institution to protect and promote human rights. To achieve independence, the NHRI will be well-served either by a constitutional mandate or by clear legislation that sets out its responsibilities, powers and authorities. Experience shows that establishing institutional independence is the only way to guarantee that a national human rights institution will be free from political influence.
I commend the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for organizing this forum, and for inviting leading government and academic figures to present their analysis of the key issues associated with the establishment of a national human rights institution. It is good to see representatives from Hanoi Law University, Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics and Public Administration as well as CSOs. UNDP previously supported the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in bringing international experts and members of human rights institutions from other countries to share their experience on different NHRI models. The discussion today builds upon this momentum, and we now turn to the next step of how an NHRI can best serve the interests of the people of Viet Nam.

Consideration of human rights is increasingly becoming part of the dialogue on all legislation considered by the Government in Viet Nam. There is now more open debate among policy makers about whether the decisions they make impact the human rights of Vietnamese citizens. Human rights are discussed across the board, including in matters like the Criminal Procedure Code, the Penal Code, and the Law on Custody and Detention, where lawmakers are balancing public safety concerns with the need to increase due process rights of the accused. Viet Nam has prioritized Human Rights by participating in two UPR cycles, and by joining seven of the nine primary human rights treaties of the United Nations.

Ladies and Gentlemen:
To date, over one hundred countries have established national human rights institutions, with twenty-two in the Asia Pacific region. Globally, seventy-two institutions are recognized as compliant with the Paris Principles.  

The Paris Principles were endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 to establish universal standards for the status and functioning of national human rights institutions. In addition to providing guidance to nations in the process of developing and supporting these institutions, the Paris Principles provide the international community with a common reference for assessing the effectiveness of an NHRI.

As recently expressed by the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Zeid Raad Al Hussein: “The Paris Principles are the basis for the credibility of NHRIs – in their country, their regions, and within the international human rights system.” Viet Nam’s human rights institution will have a stronger voice and its concerns will be given greater credence if its structure complies with the standards set forth in the Paris Principles. Let us briefly consider what these expectations are for Viet Nam’s human rights institution.

First, it should have a clearly defined and broad mandate that includes the dual responsibilities of promoting and protecting human rights. Promotion of human rights includes such measures as public education, publishing reports, and other means to ensure citizens understand their rights and know they must respect the rights of others. Protecting human rights means effective mechanisms are in place that allow for monitoring human rights and investigating suspected violations.

Second, the NHRI should have autonomy. This is intrinsically linked to the independence of the institution, a principle that Viet Nam has accepted as part of the UPR process. Any instance of interference by other agencies of the government in the work of an NHRI or one of it commissioners undermines its effectiveness as an institution, and dramatically reduces public trust in the actions it takes on behalf of human rights. A proper NHRI is both part of the government, and apart from the government.

Third, independence in operation and in funding. The truest test of an institution’s independence is its ability to conduct its affairs without outside influence. This includes the power to draft its own rules of procedure with assurance that they cannot be modified by another agency.

The fourth principle is Pluralism and Diversity: an NHRI is more effective and credible when it has a wide-range of stakeholders involved in its operation and governance. An advisory council to the NHRI composed of representatives from all sectors of society can help ensure that it is responsive to the needs of all Vietnamese people

Finally, the NHRI should have adequate powers of investigation. For an NHRI to fulfill a mandate to protect human rights, it needs to be able to freely consider any question that falls within its jurisdiction, whether it is submitted by a government agent or by an individual, without any need for the concurrence of a higher authority. It needs to be able to hear any person and review any document it deems necessary for assessing situations that fall under its mandate. Without the ability to independently investigate issues involving human rights concerns, the mandate to protect human rights will always be severely curtailed.

With these standards in mind, I look forward to today’s discussion among Viet Nam’s leading academics and civic leaders. There is no question that Viet Nam is increasing integration into the global mechanism for human rights protection. Rest assured that we all recognize the difficult challenges involved, and that all countries have to critically assess their own situations to fully understand their national human rights shortcomings. It is only after a nation looks inward, and recognizes for itself that problems exist, that change will occur. It can then draw upon its internal strengths to overcome these challenges and better secure and promote the human rights of all its citizens. Viet Nam is going through that process now, and we have great confidence that this will produce very meaningful changes to human rights protections in the near future and beyond.

Respect for human rights is the guiding principle of the United Nations. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the first global expression of the rights to which all inhabitants of the world are entitled. As we meet here today, the Sustainable Development Goals are being adopted in the United Nations General Assembly and the new comprehensive global framework has strong dimensions of rights and accountable institutions embodied therein.

In that spirit, on behalf of the United Nations in Viet Nam, I would like to offer our full support to the establishment of an Indepednent National Human Rights Institution in Viet Nam.
I wish you all good health and happiness, and a very successful conference.

Thank you. Xin Cảm Ơn.