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Opening Remarks by Ms. Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative at the workshop on revisions to the draft revised Penal Code and the draft revised Criminal Procedure Code

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Date: 3 August 2015
Event: Workshop on Revisions to the draft revised Penal Code and the draft revised Criminal Procedure Code
Venue:  National Assembly Guesthouse, 165 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Ho Chi Minh City


Mr. Uong Chu Luu, Vice-Chairman of the National Assembly

Dr. Nguyen Van Hien, Chair of the Judiciary Committee of the National Assembly

Distinguished representatives of the National Assembly, Ministry of Justice and other government institutions

Ladies and gentlemen:

A very good morning to you all.

I join Honourable Uong Chu Luu in welcoming you to this workshop on revisions to the Penal code and the Criminal Procedure Code. This discussion is part of the ongoing and highly productive cooperation between the UN and the National Assembly on improving the legal frameworks for the administration of justice in Viet Nam.

I would like to start by commending the National Assembly, the Ministry of Justice, and the Supreme People’s Procuracy for undertaking solid research as a basis for suggested changes to the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code; many of their recommendations for improving these laws will help Viet Nam bring its criminal justice system into better alignment with international standards of fairness and due process.

As part of the UN system, UNDP is very pleased to reaffirm its support to the National Assembly and other partner institutions in strengthening the criminal justice system to improve its effectiveness and to safeguard human rights.

I am pleased to note that progress has been made on several fronts. First, amendments to the Constitution in 2013 provided an imperative to create a fairer system of criminal justice. Second, the completion of the Second Cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Human Rights resulted in Viet Nam accepting most of the recommendations made by Member States to improve due process in the criminal justice system. And third, the advancement of revisions to the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code which, if adopted, will improve the ability of attorneys to participate meaningfully in criminal justice proceedings and will better align Viet Nam’s criminal laws to international standards. I note at the outset that the current drafts of the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code contain basic elements that can be built on and elaborated in order to ensure that Vietnamese citizens enjoy the new and enhanced rights contained in the 2013 Constitution.

From a human rights perspective, three key challenges have emerged from the UPR process for reforming the criminal justice system in line with international standards. The first challenge involves abolishment of death penalty or at least reducing the number of persons who receive the death penalty and putting a moratorium on execution. The second lies in implementing the terms of the Convention Against Torture to prevent its occurrence and to provide redress to victims. And the third challenge is to take measures to ensure that the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code provide meaningful due process in the administration of criminal justice. Progress in these areas will go a long way toward protecting the safety, security and human rights of all Vietnamese people.

So how can progress be measured?

First, by significantly reducing the number of crimes that can receive a death sentence, and by suspending the execution of those persons who receive a death sentence while careful consideration is made about the appropriate use of capital punishment in light of the international trend towards its abolition.

Second, implementation of the Convention Against Torture can be undertaken in a manner that effectively reduces the number of persons subject to coercive treatment by agents of the State. Torture is already a crime in Viet Nam, so creating mechanisms to prevent it from occurring and to provide redress to victims is the logical next step.

Third, Viet Nam can incorporate international fair trial standards into the Penal Code and related laws to ensure that everyone receives an impartial trial, especially if they can receive the death penalty, if convicted. Early and confidential access to counsel, and an independent judiciary, are benchmarks of a fair justice system.

Ladies and gentlemen:

Criminal law affects society in ways that no other area of governance does. The Penal Code provides the State the legal basis to maintain order, but, together with the Criminal Procedure Code, it also provides the means to deprive persons of their liberty, and in some cases, their lives. It is for this reason that the United Nations has called upon all countries to impose a moratorium on capital punishment. As recently stated by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to the Fifth World Congress against the Death Penalty: “The taking of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict on another, even when backed by legal process.” We therefore welcome the pledge by Viet Nam during the UPR deliberations to decrease the number of crimes subject to capital punishment. I note however that the proper measure of progress in this area will be a dramatic decrease in the number of persons who are executed, rather than a reduction in the number of crimes – some of which are rarely prosecuted – that can invoke a sentence of death.

Finally, we are also pleased to note the intention of Viet Nam to create alternatives to incarceration as possible criminal sentences. There are many positive outcomes that can result from judicial remedies that use community-based rehabilitation, public service, and vocational skills training as a replacement for depriving people of liberty. We have heard from judges in all parts of Viet Nam that they would like more options available for sentencing in criminal cases, so they can tailor the punishment to fit the crime. In some cases, requiring a person to attend family counseling sessions, or requiring a person to spend time helping persons with physical disabilities through a charity, may be the most appropriate way of letting them know their acts are wrong while allowing them to retain their dignity and giving them an opportunity to contribute to the harmony of society.

In closing, I hope that our discussions will produce ideas and recommendations on how the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code can be amended to reflect Viet Nam’s continuing path to international integration and observance of human rights. The current drafts of these two laws demonstrate that much progress has been made to incorporate international fair trial standards into the criminal justice system. The United Nations in Viet Nam remains committed to supporting you in this endeavour.

I wish all participants successful deliberations and thank you very much for your attention.