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UN expert on cultural rights calls for more space for people to express themselves in Viet Nam

Viet Nam / Cultural rights

29 November 2013

HANOI (29 November 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, Farida Shaheed, today called on the Government of Viet Nam “to expand the space for people to articulate their views and to ensure they can contribute their knowledge, including their traditional knowledge, to the development of the country.”

“Viet Nam finds itself at an important juncture,” Ms. Shaheed noted at the end of her first mission* to Viet Nam (18-29 November) to study measures adopted by the authorities to ensure that all persons can fully enjoy their cultural rights in the country. 

“It is time that the impressive progress made in reducing poverty and ensuring economic development is complemented by an increased space for public debate and the expression of a plurality of voices as the country moves forward”, she stressed.

The UN human rights expert also urged the Vietnamese Government “to significantly increase its efforts to map and mitigate the negative effects of development schemes so that the country can fully benefit from the strength of the varied cultures of its peoples to promote sustainable development.”

The Special Rapporteur regretted that, while tourism has provided a supplementary source of livelihood to local people, they are not the primary beneficiaries of the revenue generated.

“Measures are needed to ensure that the people whose cultural heritage is being used to promote tourism are empowered to manage these activities to their best advantage,” Ms. Shaheed said, recalling the situation in Sa Pa, one of the locations she visited: “People should not be obliged to perform rather than live their own cultures.”
“Viet Nam should also ensure greater freedom of artistic expression as well as academic freedoms,” Ms. Shaheed said. She expressed concern about the absence of private publishing houses, which greatly reduces the scope for independent voices to be heard, as well as the use of a single history textbook in schools.

The Special Rapporteur underscored that history teaching should promote critical thought, analytic learning and debate, as recommended in her latest report to the General Assembly (August 2013).

“I am also deeply concerned that a number of artists have been under surveillance, harassed, or detained,” the expert noted, referring to cases of artists convicted under article 88 of the Criminal Code for “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam”.

“I sincerely hope that the Government would review its policy to ensure greater freedom of artistic expression and creativity, in accordance with international standards,” the Special Rapporteur said.

During her twelve-day visit to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, and Sa Pa, as well as a few villages in the Da Nang, Quang Nam and Lao Cai Provinces, the human rights expert met with a broad variety of actors in the cultural field, including State authorities, at the national as well as local levels.

She also held meetings with artists, academics, directors and staff working in research institutes or cultural institutions, representatives of civil society, members of ethnic communities, and people involved in the tourism industry.

The Special Rapporteur will present to the UN Human Rights Council a comprehensive report with her findings and recommendations in 2014.

Ms. Farida Shaheed took up her functions as Independent Expert and then Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights in August 2009. She has worked for more than 25 years promoting and protecting cultural rights by fostering policies and projects designed in culturally sensitive ways to support the rights of marginalized sectors, including women, peasants, and religious and ethnic minorities. Ms. Shaheed has been the recipient of several national and international human rights awards, and is an experienced participant in negotiations at international, regional and national levels. Learn more, log on to:

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur:
In English:
In Vietnamese:

Read the Special Rapporteur’s 2013 report to the UN General Assembly on the writing and teaching of history:

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Viet Nam:

For inquiries and media requests, please contact:
In Hanoi: Ms. Mylène Bidault, (+ 41 79 444 4355 / [email protected]), Mr. Trinh Anh Tuan (+84 4 3822 4383 / [email protected])
In Geneva: Ms. Chenie Yoon (+41 22 917 9756 / [email protected]) or write to [email protected].

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])  

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