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Speech by United Nations Resident Coordinator, Ms. Pratibha Mehta at the launch of the Viet Nam National Committee on Persons with Disabilities

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Date: Monday, 18 January 2016
Event: The launch of the Viet Nam National Committee on Persons with Disabilities
Venue: Pullman Hotel, Cat Linh Street, Ha Noi

H.E. Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam;
H.E., Mdm. Pham Thi Hai Chuyen, Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs and Chair of the National Committee on Persons with Disabilities;
Distinguished members of the National Committee;
Representatives from Civil Society Organizations working with Persons with Disabilities;
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me begin by wishing you all a very Happy New Year!
It has been just over a year since we gathered to celebrate the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Today, I am very delighted to participate in the Launch of the National Committee on Persons with disabilities. I congratulate the Government on the establishment of this Committee and initiating the development of the Action Plan.
This Committee, under the strong leadership of the Minister of MOLISA, will play a vital role in ensuring that Viet Nam fulfils its commitments under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Today in Viet Nam, one in seven people live with some form of disability. This is a sizable group of people who experience multidimensional challenges that calls for changing attitudes and holistic, inter-sectoral interventions, if we are to truly realise the rights and dignity of persons with disability.

The United Nations, together with other partners in Viet Nam, have been, and will continue to be, a committed partner in helping to “make rights real” for persons with disabilities in Viet Nam. Over years, lot of progress has been made including the ratification of the UN Convention and formulation of draft plan of action. But also in number of other areas as highlighted by Vice Minister Mr. Dam, for example, from our experience of the joint UN project on disability, which was implemented by civil society organisations, to engage people with disabilities in the preparation for the ratification and the implementation of the Law on Persons with Disabilities, indicates both the growing capacity and interest of CSOs to participate as partners.

Great steps have been made in gathering data and generating evidence around disability. This includes, the inclusion of disability indicators in the Viet Nam’s Population and Housing Census and the information collected has been vital in informing national law and policies in health, social protection, and labour and employment. However, we have also seen that applying a narrow definition of disability has resulted in significant numbers of people with disabilities being excluded from these advances in health, social protection, and employment.

Efforts have also been made in helping to shift public attitudes to disability. In my various interaction with differently abled people, I have been struck by their aspirations and dreams. Repeatedly they mention that the biggest challenge they face is not their disability but the attitude of people and society. The UN has supported the development of a communication framework to eliminate stigma and discrimination, and promote inclusion of persons with disabilities. But much more needs to be done to change public awareness and attitudes to eliminate all forms of stigma and discrimination targeting people with disabilities especially in access to health and education services and vocational training, jobs, income generating activities so people with disabilities can build their capabilities and avail of opportunities, especially decent work and jobs.

Of course, for those unable to work, social protection is vital. However the current disability benefit scheme only reaches around 600,000 persons with severe disability and 191,000 persons diagnosed with “having a serious mental illness”. Clearly, coverage is still very limited, given the estimated more than 1 million people between 20 and 65 years living with a severe disability, not to mention the overall estimated 7.2 million Vietnamese who are persons with disabilities. In addition, the level of regular social assistance benefits is simply too low to make a difference in beneficiaries’ life. These families need sufficient social protection not only to become more resilient to shocks but also to be able to invest in their children and to seize the new and better job opportunities that will be created as the country progresses and integrates into global and regional economies. Although we have a long way to go, what we have also seen across all of our different contributions is that here in Viet Nam there is a fundamental willingness to “act”. And that is half of the journey.

Ladies and Gentleman, today’s launch is very timely. In September 2015, President Truong Tan Sang joined the world leaders at the United Nations and endorsed the new global development agenda to help “Transform our World”. This 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with 17 Sustainable Development Goals is bold and ambitious with a commitment to eliminate poverty, exclusion and violence.

In order to achieve the SDGs, the specific needs of people with disabilities must be considered in each and every goal. And it is our responsibility to work together to transform these commitments into action for all - including the most vulnerable and marginalized in our societies.

In this spirit, I would like to offer some suggestions:

  1. We have to make people with disabilities in Viet Nam “count”. Currently there is a lack of reliable national data on persons with disabilities in Viet Nam. I am pleased to note that the Government Statistics Office has plans to conduct a national disability survey, filling a significant gap in our knowledge. We strongly hope that the survey will take into account the international definition of disability and it will go beyond just counting number of adults and children with disabilities, and provide evidence on who are people with disabilities; where do they live; what do they do; and what challenges they face in everyday life.
  2. Fulfilling the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities has to be the ultimate goal of the Action Plan. As such the Plan must take a ‘human rights-based’ rather than a ‘charity’ approach. The UN Convention calls on us to shift our understanding of people with disabilities from being ‘dependent objects of charity’ to being rights holders who can be decision-makers in their own lives. Building capabilities of people with disabilities and removing obstacles that hinder their inclusion, participation and empowerment is extremely important and this cannot be achieved without the active involvement and engagement of the persons with disabilities and Civil Society Organisations working with People with Disabilities, in the development, implementation and monitoring of the Plan;
  3. Finally, the Action Plan must prioritize actions to achieve equal access to opportunities, services and information for people with disabilities. There are still critical gaps in health, employment, education and vocational training and social protection. It is therefore important that the Plan clearly establishes the objectives and targets that will guide implementation, as well as appropriate allocations of national and provincial resources.

The National Committee has a critical role to ensure inter-ministerial coordination and we hope that it will also have strong oversight on its implementation. But equally important, the Committee can play a crucial role in changing public attitudes and in creating avenues for dialogue with people with disabilities and ensuring their voice and participation in decision making.

The UN stands ready to support the implementation and monitoring of the Action Plan as well as helping to improve reporting to the human rights treaty bodies.

And as always, the UN will support the participation of persons with disabilities and Civil Society Organizations working closely with persons with disabilities in implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the Convention.

UN very much looks forward to working with the Government, CSOs and all other stakeholders in ensuring that No One is left behind in middle-income Viet Nam.

I wish the National Committee Members great success in their work and wish you all happiness, health and success!

Xin cam on!