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“As Viet Nam develops, new efforts are needed to ensure no one is left behind,” says UN expert on extreme poverty

31 August, 2010

HA NOI – “While Viet Nam has made impressive progress in reducing poverty over the past two decades, additional efforts are required to ensure the inclusion of vulnerable groups and the sustainability of progress made” said the UN Independent Expert on human rights and extreme poverty, Magdalena Sepúlveda, at the end of her nine-day visit to the country.

Ms. Sepúlveda stressed that poverty should not be understood purely as an economic issue that can be solved solely by increasing the income of households. “Poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon and its eradication requires a holistic approach in which compliance with human rights instruments plays a key role”. According to the Independent Expert, “effective poverty reduction strategies must be always framed by the overall premise that everyone in Viet Nam must enjoy the full range of civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights.” Moreover, she noted that under a human rights framework the State must ensure that growth remains inclusive and that no groups or regions are left behind.

“Despite important economic gains, poverty remains pervasive among minority groups, and great regional disparities persist”, said Ms. Sepulveda at a press conference in Ha Noi. “The Government needs to employ innovative strategies to reach those still to benefit from Viet Nam’s economic progress because of cultural, physical or administrative barriers.”

Ms. Sepulveda was particularly concerned about the high levels of poverty among ethnic minorities. “Because they live in isolated rural areas, ethnic minorities face serious difficulties accessing social services. While there have been improvements in the infrastructure in these areas, parallel efforts are also needed to ensure that policy measures recognize and support cultural differences, and are specifically designed to address the social and cultural barriers to minority groups’ inclusion – without which, poverty will persist.”

As Viet Nam’s cities continue to grow rapidly, more and more strain is being put on public services and infrastructure. “Several barriers that prevent “unregistered” migrants to cities from accessing social services are significantly undermining the enjoyment of rights by these internal migrants", said Ms. Sepúlveda. She encouraged the authorities not only to devise new urban development initiatives but to take further measures to eliminate these barriers obstructing access for these migrants to social services: “This will be indispensable to realizing migrants' rights to an adequate standard of living including food and housing, education, and health."

Ms Sepúlveda welcomed the development of Viet Nam’s new social protection strategy for 2011-2020. She noted that “to be effective, this strategy must be comprehensive, integrated with other social policies and well funded." She also called on the Government to increase its support of social assistance measures: "Today, the level of benefits is so low that it is insufficient to help people escape their situations of extreme poverty. Despite commendable efforts to expand the coverage of free health insurance cards and subsidies to education, most of the benefits people receive are taken away again through user fees on health or education.”

Ms. Sepúlveda also emphasized the need to ensure participation, transparency, and accountability as key components of a rights-based approach to social protection. “The participation of persons living in extreme poverty in the design, implementation and evaluation of public policies that affect them is key to these policies’ effectiveness and sustainability ", she said, adding that people need to be fully aware of both their rights and the channels they can use to assert and claim them.

“Corruption has a particularly devastating impact on persons living in extreme poverty", noted Ms. Sepúlveda. "The Government must immediately strengthen and implement effective and accessible mechanisms for complaints and adopt appropriate legislation to guarantee access to information, among other mechanisms. This will ensure that problems are detected and addressed in a timely manner and that those responsible for acts of corruption are held fully accountable.”

“Climate change is undoubtedly a major challenge for Viet Nam, with those living in poverty suffering most, as they are less able to prepare, adapt or recover from its severe consequences”, concluded Ms. Sepúlveda. She called on donors and the international community to enhance their support to Viet Nam to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change: “Climate change-related transfers should be additional and complementary to the existing official development assistance that the country receives.”

Ms. Sepulveda praised Viet Nam’s engagement with international mechanisms for the protection of human rights: “The invitation of various human rights experts to the country opens space for a promising dialogue. Viet Nam may further express this commitment through the ratification of human rights treaties such as the Convention against Torture.”

During her stay in Viet Nam from 23 to 31 August 2010, Ms. Sepúlveda met with various authorities including H.E. Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem, and visited communities living in poverty in Bac Kam, Hanoi and Quang Nam.

ENDS

Magdalena Sepúlveda is the United Nations Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty since May 2008. She is a Chilean lawyer currently working as Research Director at the International Council on Human Rights Policy in Geneva.

For further information on the Independent Expert mandate and work, please visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/poverty/expert/index.htm

OHCHR Country page – Vietnam: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/VNIndex.aspx

For more information and media request, please contact Elaine Ryan (Tel: + 41 22 917 9697, e-mail: ieextremepoverty@ohchr.org)