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Viet Nam: UN expert urges stepped-up efforts to combat poverty

Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Magdalena Sepúlveda.
UN Photo/M. Garten
Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Magdalena Sepúlveda.

Viet Nam: UN expert urges stepped-up efforts to combat poverty

While Viet Nam has made considerable strides in curbing poverty in the past 20 years, efforts must be ramped up to ensure that no one is left behind as the Asian nation continues its economic growth, a United Nations independent human rights expert said today.

Wrapping up a nine-day visit to the country, Magdalena Sepúlveda, the UN Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty, stressed that poverty should not be understood purely as an economic issue that can be solved solely by boosting household incomes.

“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,” she emphasized at a press conference in Hanoi, the capital.

Under a human rights framework, the expert said, a country must ensure that growth stays inclusive, leaving no groups or regions behind.

“Despite important economic gains, poverty remains pervasive among minority groups, and great regional disparities persist,” she said, calling on the Government to implement innovative measures to reach those yet to benefit from Viet Nam’s economic progress.

Ms. Sepúlveda voiced particular concern over the high levels of poverty among ethnic minorities, many of whom live in isolated areas and have difficulties accessing social services.

Without policy measures that recognize cultural differences and are designed to overcome barriers to the inclusion of minority groups, poverty will persist, she cautioned.

The expert welcomed Viet Nam’s creation of a social protection programme for the 2011-2012 period, noting that “to be effective, this strategy must be comprehensive, integrated with other social policies and well-funded.”

She also urged authorities to bolster its support of social assistance measures, given that the level of benefits is insufficient to help people escape the clutches of 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 called for those living in extreme poverty to take part in designing, implementing and evaluating public policies affecting them to ensure the measures are effective and sustainable.

“Corruption has a particularly devastating impact on persons living in extreme poverty,” she underlined. “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.”

During her visit, she met with Government officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem, and also visited communities living in poverty in Bac Kam, Hanoi and Quang Nam.

Ms. Sepúlveda, a Chilean lawyer, was appointed to her position in May 2008, and reports to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council in an unpaid capacity.