UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development Releases Report Following Country Visit to Vietnam
The UNPO welcomes the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development, Mr. Surya Deva's mission statement, following their official country visit to Vietnam, November 6 – 15, 2023. The statement highlights self-determination as a vital component of the right to development while also highlighting the climate change affecting communities living in the Mekong Delta, the shrinking civic space and targeting of human rights defenders, and, importantly, the country's lack of support for the right to self-determination of indigenous communities.
The objective of the Special Rapporteurs visit was to examine the progress and challenges in realizing the right to development and promoting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In preparation for the visit, the UNPO submitted information to the Special Rapporteur, focusing on Viet Nam's (lack of) implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, mainly the Khmer-Krom community's exclusion from participating in the SDGs process.
The UNPO, in collaboration with our member, the Khmer Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF), has long been campaigning for the rights of the Khmer-Krom community in Vietnam, particularly regarding the government's lack of recognition of their indigenous status. The UNPO is pleased that the Special Rapporteur acknowledges this as a major obstacle to the right to self-determination and accordingly calls for the Government to reconsider its stance:
"I am aware that the government of Viet Nam does not accept the concept of indigenous peoples, though it had supported the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). This results in ethnic monitories being unable to avail important rights to self-determination and free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC). As self-identification is a fundamental principle of UNDRIP, the government should consider allowing individuals alone or in association with others to choose their identity, including the right to identify as indigenous peoples. The Government should also consider ratifying the ILO Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples."
In the report, the UN Special Rapporteur also highlights the environmental pollution and climate change challenges that the UNPO has repeatedly highlighted, particularly regarding the unsustainable farming practices Khmer-Krom farmers are forced to adopt, which are further aggravated by climate change, cause many Khmer-Krom to exist in a continual poverty-reinforcing cycle:
"Viet Nam is highly vulnerable to climate change impacts such as rising sea levels, biodiversity loss, and marine plastic pollution. Climate change and environmental pollution pose the greatest risk to the poor, ethnic minorities, and other people in remote, mountainous, and low-lying areas, persons with disabilities, children, and women. Communities in the Mekong Delta have been facing soil degradation from over-farming, unpredictable monsoon floods, droughts, increasing infiltrations of saline water in the rice fields, and salt deposits in the nearby grounds. I saw first-hand the coastal erosion in Bao Thuan Commune of the Ben Tre Province caused by the sea level rise."
The exclusion of the Khmer-Krom community from the SDG process is another major obstacle to Viet Nam's realization of its development goals. As highlighted in our submission to the Special Rapporteur, exclusion from participation can be categorized by, on the one hand, a lack of awareness and education about the existence of SDGs among the Khmer-Krom and, on the other, the active repression faced by Khmer-Krom individuals attempting to promote the SDGs. The UNPO, therefore, also welcomes the Special Rapporteur's expressed concern for the exclusion of marginalized groups from decision-making processes:
"At the same time, I received information that people – especially from marginalized or vulnerable groups – and NGOs are often unable to participate in decision-making processes in an active, free, and meaningful manner. While international NGOs face cumbersome regulatory processes, unreasonable restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression (both offline and online), shrinking civic space, and the selective use of laws to target human rights defenders have a chilling effect on diverse participation opportunities. While various government authorities generally conduct consultations, these are often superficial and do not recognize the agency of people."
The UNPO has been campaigning for many years to have the international community recognize the harms being committed by the Vietnamese authorities against the Khmer-Krom people and are incredibly grateful to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development for investigating these and bringing to light these important issues.
Photo credit: Nguyen Quang Ngoc Tonkin