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Bilingual Education key for Viet Nam’s minorities - UN expert

GENEVA (21 July 2010) – “Most ethnic minority groups remain the poorest of Viet Nam’s poor,” said the UN Independent Expert on minority issues, Gay McDougall, on returning from a ten-day mission to the country to examine the human rights situation of Viet Nam’s numerous minority groups*.

“Persistent problems remain for many of those belonging to Viet Nam’s minority groups, despite a period of economic growth, progress towards the UN Millennium Development Goals and positive results in poverty alleviation and economic development in general,” Ms. McDougall noted.

The Independent Expert highlighted the issue of education for minority communities and the key role of education in closing the poverty gap experienced by many minorities.
“Access to quality and appropriate education is a gateway to development and poverty eradication for minorities, and it is equally essential for the preservation and promotion of minority cultures, languages and identities.”

Among many issues to be addressed by the authorities, the UN expert singled out bilingual education as an area of “high priority.” In Viet Nam there are 54 recognized distinct ethnic groups with unique religious, linguistic and cultural characteristics and identities.

Despite significant progress in the provision of education infrastructure, according to Ms. McDougall, minorities are achieving poor results relative to majority students and much needs to be done to address this fact. “Minorities lack adequate opportunities to be taught in their own minority languages from the earliest years of education and struggle with being taught only in Vietnamese”

“Bilingual education helps minority children to make better early progress and provides a strong and culturally appropriate foundation for their future schooling,” the UN Human Rights Council expert said, highlighting a pilot project for bilingual education implemented by the Ministry of Education and Training and UNICEF, which has demonstrated positive results for minority students.

Ms. McDougall also emphasized that the rights of minorities include freedom to practice their religions without restriction, freedom of association and expression, the right of peaceful assembly, the equal right to own and use land and the right to participate fully and effectively in decision-making regarding issues that affect them.

From 5 to 15 July 2010 the Independent Expert visited Hanoi and travelled to regions of significant minority populations, including the provinces of Dien Bien in the Northern Highlands, Tra Vinh in the Mekong Delta region and Gia Lai and Kon Tum provinces in the Central Highlands.

The Independent Expert will present a report containing her full findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2011.

The mandate of the Independent Expert is one of the thematic Special Procedures human rights mandates reporting to the UN Human Rights Council. Gay McDougall (United States) was appointed as the first holder of the post of UN Independent Expert on minority issues in July 2005. The Independent Expert on minority issues is required to promote implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities and to identify challenges as well as positive practices in regard to minority issues.

(*) Read the Independent Expert’s end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10223&LangID=E

OHCHR Country Page – Viet Nam: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/VNIndex.aspx

For press inquiries and additional information on the Independent Expert’s mission, please contact Graham Fox, OHCHR Human Rights Officer (Mobile: +41 22 917 9640 / e-mail: gfox@ohchr.org).