Speech at the second cycle of the universal periodic review of the United Nations human rights council

Jul 5, 2012

Speaker: Ms. Setsuko Yamazaki, UNDP Country Director
Date:       5 July 2012
Event:     The Second Cycle of the Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations Human Rights Council
Venue:    Hotel Nikko, Ha Noi

His Excellency Hoang Chi Trung, Director General of the Department of International Organizations, MOFA
Dear participants;

Five years ago, the Universal Periodic Review was unfamiliar to many countries. Introduced as a new human rights mechanism by the Human Rights Council, many countries, including Viet Nam, had to familiarize themselves with the process. More than 64 other countries were reviewed before Viet Nam and so Viet Nam had the advantage of learning from the experience of others before its first review. This experience was shared at a workshop in 2008, organized by UNDP in collaboration with the Swiss Embassy. The workshop provided Government officials with an opportunity to learn from other countries, such as Bahrain, as well as directly from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The workshop today, like the one in 2008, is part of UNDP’s cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to strengthen its capacity to engage with international human rights mechanisms. It provides an excellent opportunity to discuss what has been achieved by Viet Nam since the first UPR review in 2009, and to share experiences with the Government of Indonesia, who has just completed its second review.

As you know, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique mechanism of the Human Rights Council. It aims to improve the human rights situation on the ground in each of the 193 Member States of the United Nations. Established by the UN General Assembly in 2006, the UPR reviews the fulfillment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments. But the UPR is also an opportunity to bring Member States together to jointly discuss human rights issues and to learn from one another. As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said in October 2011 at the Human Rights Council: “The UPR has proved to be an innovative, transparent, collaborative instrument for change and has made it possible – for the first time ever – for all UN Member States to be reviewed on an equal basis.” 

Since the establishment of the UPR process in 2006, all countries have been reviewed and the second cycle of reviews has just started this year. The first UPR was a very positive experience for Viet Nam, with 93 out of 133 recommendations being accepted by Viet Nam. Speaking at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2009, Foreign Minister Phan Binh Minh, who led the Vietnamese UPR delegation, remarked that: “Viet Nam attaches importance to the UPR national report, regarding it as a United Nations member’s obligation and an opportunity for comprehensive and participatory review of its human rights achievements and future measures.”

We are now only one and a half years away from Viet Nam’s second national UPR report submission to the Council and I applaud Viet Nam, and MOFA in particular, for already starting now to prepare for the second review.

I would like to take this opportunity to raise three key points for your consideration.

My first point is on the importance of following-up on the accepted UPR recommendations. While preparing for the UPR and drafting a national report are arduous tasks, the more difficult part is that of follow-up.

There is no doubt that Viet Nam has strong ambitions to fulfill its national human rights obligations and to follow up on the commitments made in front of the international community. 

After the first review Viet Nam quickly set in motion several activities. An open briefing was organized, where MOFA representatives reported back to a large audience on the experience and outcomes of the UPR, and UPR recommendations were divided and assigned for follow-up to several ministries. Four Special Rapporteurs were also invited to visit Viet Nam – the first ones to visit since 1998.

While Viet Nam took immediate steps after the Review it is important to not lose sight of recommendations that require long-term effort and focus. This includes recommendations such as devising plans and strategies to reach out to remote areas and improve the living conditions of the population; and improving the situation for persons with disabilities. These are recommendations that will take several years to put into practice. Yet they are also recommendations that will significantly improve people’s lives and contribute greatly to the promotion and protection of human rights in Viet Nam.

At the next review in 2014, Viet Nam will need to provide information on how it has followed up on all accepted recommendations, short and long term. It will therefore be important to keep a long-term vision and perspective and to devise strategies that go beyond 2014.

My second point is on the importance of an effective UPR monitoring system.

Only when there is a clear allocation of responsibilities and a coordinated working mechanism between government institutions as well as regular status checks can effective follow-up of accepted recommendations be ensured. I am pleased to see that many ministries are here today, as they play an important role in following up on accepted UPR recommendations.

My third and final point is on the importance of civil society participation in the UPR process.

Information sharing through diverse communication channels helps to ensure that a complete picture of what has been done is available to the general public. Civil society plays a valuable role in disseminating information and in being involved at all stages of the UPR process. Civil society organizations are thus important partners in UPR preparation, monitoring and follow-up and, as in the last review, should also be provided with opportunities to contribute this time around.

Before I end, let me welcome our two guest speakers and resource people. From Indonesia we are fortunate to have Ms. Indah Nuria Savitri with us. Ms. Savitri works for the Directorate of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs in the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thank you very much for joining us and for the comparative perspective you will bring to our discussions. Let me also thank my colleague Ms. Yu Kanosue from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for being here with us today and providing the OHCHR’s global perspective and lessons on the UPR.

In closing, let me stress that as the custodian of the UPR, the UN in Viet Nam feels privileged to support this workshop, which is part of an ongoing project between MOFA and UNDP. We look forward to continuing our engagement with Viet Nam on the UPR as the second cycle unfolds. 

Let me also thank MOFA and my UNDP colleagues for their work in organizing this workshop, and designing a programme that really touches on one of the key dimensions of our contemporary international human rights architecture. I very much look forward to our dialogue today and to seeing the benefits for all Vietnamese people of the translation of the UPR recommendations across all sectors and segments of society.

I wish you all good health and happiness, and a very successful workshop.

Thank you.