Workshop on Protecting and Promoting Human Rights in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic
15 December 2020
Opening Remarks by Mr Kamal Malhotra, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam
Mr. Pham Quang Hieu, Assistant Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
Mr. Do Hung Viet, Director General, Department of International Organizations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
Colleagues from ministries, national partner organizations, and the UN;
On behalf of the UN in Viet Nam, I take this opportunity to wish you all a belated happy Human Rights Day, December 10th. Since 2015, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and UNDP in Viet Nam, in its broader role as Chair of the One UN Results Group on Governance and Justice, have established a ‘tradition’ of collaborating to commemorate International Human Rights Day. This year’s global theme for Human Rights Day aligns with today’s programme, reflecting on the challenges and opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Both the UN Secretary General and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have called on all countries to build forward better by standing up for human rights. Implementation of all of the 3rd Cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations made, not just those accepted by Viet Nam, will ensure that Viet Nam achieves that goal.
This year has been a difficult one for everyone, and the world continues to grapple with COVID-19. Viet Nam has done exceptionally well in addressing and containing its health-related aspects through early, effective and robust measures, and we are among the lucky ones to be able to physically gather together on occasions such as today. However, many challenges still remain for Viet Nam. The September 2020 UN Assessment of the Social and Economic Impact of COVID-19 in Viet Nam, which I understand the UNDP Resident Representative will present in more detail today, highlighted the complex and grave socio-economic impacts of the pandemic. Importantly, the assessment highlighted that the protection of human rights across the spectrum, including economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights, must be at the heart of any measures and policy interventions aimed at addressing the impacts of COVID-19. The UN Secretary-General has also underlined that responses that are shaped by and respect human rights “prepare the ground for emerging from this crisis with more equitable and sustainable societies, development and peace.”
As noted in the UN Viet Nam joint statement for Human Rights Day last week, the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened pre-existing inequalities, exposing deep-rooted vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems. Many of these challenges to Viet Nam’s achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) had previously been raised in different fora, by UN human rights experts and Treaty Bodies, as well as by fellow States during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Detailed recommendations across every area of human rights and the SDGs – covering all aspects of life impacted by COVID-19 – have also been made this year to support Viet Nam in tackling root causes, ensuring full protection of human rights and achieving the 2030 Agenda. I hope that these recommendations will form the foundation of Viet Nam’s response and recovery to COVID-19 and any future such complex emergencies.
In this testing time, we should redouble our collective efforts to leave no one behind. In this regard, allow me to make three specific points about the response and recovery measures. First, such measures must take into account the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on the marginalized and the most vulnerable. Incorporating the perspectives, voices and knowledge of the people most affected in response and recovery measures will also be essential. By ensuring their representation, participation and leadership roles, Viet Nam will guarantee that no one is left behind.
Second, the response and recovery measures should also prioritize fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of expression online and offline, the right to access information, and the right to participate in decision-making that affects one’s life. These rights should allow meaningful participation of all sectors of society and diverse non-government actors, including human rights defenders, in the design and implementation of government responses to COVID-19. As emphasised by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mme. Michelle Bachelet, the contribution of such actors “to surviving the pandemic and recovering better once it is over, will be absolutely vital,” and the curtailing of their contributions “is one of the surest ways of undermining that recovery, by removing one of the key remedies.” A recent survey by UNDP and the Mekong Development Research Institute reveals high consensus of respondents on, and strong support for, government policy and actions to contain the pandemic. More than 90 percent of the respondents rated the responses from the National Steering Committee on COVID-19 Prevention and Control and provincial governments as good or very good. Building on this success in generating public trust in its COVID-19 health response, the Government should foster whole-of-society participation to build forward better on a much broader range of human rights and other related issues.
Third, while the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights acknowledges that human rights can be limited during times of emergencies, such as pandemics and natural disasters, there are clear principles that define such limitations. Any measures that restrict human rights, such as health surveillance tools and efforts to counteract misinformation, if absolutely necessary, should be proportionate to the evaluated risk, serve a legitimate public health objective and be applied in a non-discriminatory manner. This means having a specific focus, duration and end-date, and taking the least intrusive approach possible to protect public health.
Now is the time for Viet Nam to put even greater energy into enhancing the full protection and enjoyment of human rights by all its citizens, as well as strengthening its compliance with its international obligations and commitments. Four opportunities present themselves in 2021: First, Viet Nam will report on its implementation of recommendations made by the UN Human Rights Committee in 2019; Second, it will engage in the voluntary mid-term reporting of the UPR process; Third, it will adopt and implement both its next Social and Economic Development Strategy and Plan; and last but certainly not least, Viet Nam will work with the UN in Viet Nam to develop the next UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework for 2022 - 2026. Viet Nam, in collaboration with the UN, must seize these opportunities to build on the country’s progress over the more than 40 years since it joined the United Nations in September 1977 – prioritising frank and reflective engagement through constructive dialogues; by embedding human rights at the core of these processes; guaranteeing meaningful participation of those most affected and most at risk of being left behind, including through a national public consultation to inform the UPR mid-term report; and avoiding, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk of reversing the impressive development advances which Viet Nam has already made.
From individuals to the Government, from non-governmental organizations and grass-roots communities to the private sector, everyone has a role in building a post-COVID Viet Nam that is better for both present and future generations. The UN in Viet Nam will continue to work closely with the Government and people of Viet Nam to support them in achieving this worthy aspiration.