By Pauline Tamesis, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam
“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,”
is the first line of the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In one sentence, it encapsulates the principles and values that we, as a human family have promised to uphold and fulfil 74 years ago. It is a powerful reminder of the proclamation made by the United Nations General Assembly on this very day in 1948.
Each year, hence, on the 10th of December, we observe Human Rights Day on the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By celebrating Human Rights Day, we continue to reaffirm the promise of the Declaration – to uphold universal, indivisible and inalienable human rights and fundamental freedoms for everyone, everywhere.
2023 marks the 45th anniversary of Viet Nam’s membership to the United Nations. During the recent visit of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, he reminded us that “Human rights are at the heart of unleashing the best of our societies. They build solidarity. They promote inclusion, equality, and growth. They underwrite freedom. They ensure lasting stability”, emphasizing that upholding human rights in all its dimensions, remain vital to the next chapter of Viet Nam’s development success story.
Our world today continues to face a multitude of challenges, from pandemics to conflicts to climate change. Across the globe, social injustice pervades societies; fundamental freedoms of religion and belief, of opinion and expression are under attack; and the vulnerable suffer most from inequality and discrimination, unable to exercise their rights.
Viet Nam has not been spared from impact of global crises. While the country is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, it needs at the same time to cope with the increasing food and energy prices from the fallout of the war in Ukraine, while battling natural disasters and impact of climate change. Unfortunately, the poor and those least capable to overcome these shocks disproportionately bear the brunt of these crises.
In Viet Nam, remote and ethnic minority communities are being left behind. Only 1/5 of ethnic minority households have access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene services, compared to Kinh and Hoa majority households. Despite high coverage for health insurance, access to health services is low among certain ethnic minority populations. While 87% of Mong women have health insurance, only 37% deliver in a health facility. Maternal mortality is also 2-3 time higher among ethnic minorities than the national average. Early childhood education enrolment amongst 3- to 5-year-olds from ethnic groups is only 66% compared to 92% nationwide. Multi-dimensional poverty among Mong, Dao and Khmer groups are 45%, 20 and 19.2% respectively, while the rate for the majority Kinh group was only 2.8% in 2020. The climate crisis exacerbates vulnerabilities faced by ethnic minority groups. Drought, heat waves and flooding lead to climate change-induced insecurity. Smallholder agriculture, particularly poor, ethnic minority and women farmers are ultimately the most severely impacted.
All these development challenges threaten dignity and equality in rights, including health, food, education, an adequate standard of living, social assistance, and even to life itself. The realities that vulnerable individuals and communities face in their lives and livelihoods serve as a reminder and push for our continued action to integrate human rights in all development priorities – from climate action, to labour and social protection, to economic transformation – and put people at the centre of development.
On 28 July 2022, the UN General Assembly adopted a historic resolution that gave universal recognition to the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment (R2HE). This important international legal development reinforces action in over 150 countries where the R2HE is already recognized.
Viet Nam’s election to the Human Rights Council for the period 2023-2025 presents a great responsibility but also an important opportunity to redouble efforts in protecting and promoting economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights in line with international human rights standards. Among Viet Nam’s pledges as part of its election to the Human Rights Council, it is encouraging that Viet Nam prioritised upholding its commitments and obligations under the international human rights treaties, of which Viet Nam has ratified 7 out of 9; strengthening education on human rights; and addressing the impacts of climate change on the enjoyment of human rights, with particular attention on the rights of vulnerable groups. As Viet Nam commences its membership to the Human Rights Council, it would be critical to translate these commitments into concrete actions, and to demonstrate even stronger evidence of the protection and promotion of human rights.
The United Nations, as a proud and long-standing partner of Viet Nam over the past 45 years, will continue to work closely with the Government of Viet Nam, development partners and civil society, to keep human rights at the centre of all development efforts. Renewed collaboration and cooperation, including meaningful inclusion and participation of diverse non-government actors and communities, will be crucial for promoting the vibrant dialogue needed to help Viet Nam progress on a broad range of human rights.
Together, we can fulfil the promise of a human family that upholds dignity, freedom and justice for all.
Pauline Tamesis is the UN Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam. To remind us of the relevance and legacy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and ahead of its 75th Anniversary celebration next year, the United Nations is launching the year-long campaign “UDHR 75: Dignity, Freedom and Justice for All”. For more information, please visit: https://www.ohchr.org/en/get-involved/campaign/human-rights-day