Protecting rights through law and judiciary reform

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law judiciaryProtecting rights through law and judiciary reform

Increasing access to justice and protecting rights is vital if the Vietnamese people are to fully realize their aspirations and potential. In 2015 a broad coalition of UN Agencies focused their joint technical and advocacy efforts in helping the Government respond to last year's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations.

In 2014 Government of Viet Nam accepted 182 of 227 UPR recommendations to improve human rights in the country. Within this framework, one key area of work is to reform the criminal justice system and improve the legal and institutional framework sufficiently to ensure full-scale protection of human rights.

In the past year, by working together, UN Agencies have helped enhance revisions to a number of legal codes to better protect rights of the most vulnerable groups in society, including children in conflict with the law, women survivors of violence, survivors of human trafficking and people living with HIV.

The UN identified a number of legal and policy gaps in the country's responses to UPR recommendations, and in 2015 the UN commissioned research to build the evidence base in order to help law and policy-makers address key issues. In particular, six policy briefs and legal recommendation documents were developed by UNICEF, UNDP, UNODC and UN Women and shared with legislative drafting teams, National Assembly, Government and respective agencies for amendments to the two codes and laws on anti-discrimination. UN experts also shared international death penalty information and trends towards its abolition, while legal dialogues, workshops and consultations with relevant stakeholders were facilitated to discuss code reforms.

Key UN advocacy messages have been developed to improve legal and judicial protection for vulnerable groups and strengthened punitive responses against perpetrators, while strongly advocating for removal of the death penalty. At the same time, UN recommendations called for improved criminal proceedings, evidentiary rules and the rights of women survivors of violence.

This intensive, multi-agency approach climaxed with the revised Criminal Procedure and Penal codes approved by the National Assembly in late November 2015. These revisions enshrine a number of steps forward in protecting human rights and minimizing use of the death penalty. Under the new Penal Code, to take effect on July 1, 2016, the death penalty will be abolished for seven crimes, while punishments for perpetrators of child abuse, human trafficking, smuggling of migrants and violence against women will be strengthened. The scope and definition of human trafficking, smuggling of migrants, rape and domestic violence offenses have also been broadened.

Highlights of Criminal Procedure Code revisions include improvements to the fundamental rights to access counsel at all stages of criminal proceedings, present evidence independent of Government and confront witnesses testifying against the accused. Of particular note, bureaucratic obstacles in place for decades that prevented lawyers' timely access to arrested persons in custody have been largely removed. More people facing deprivation of liberty are eligible for free legal counsel and police officers and other State agents who place people in custody now have an obligation to inform the accused of their rights under the law and Constitution.

In spite of considerable progress, there is still scope for UN-supported amendments as many forms of violence against women are still considered insufficiently serious to be penalized.

Looking forward, the UN will explore further opportunities with Government to convert these legal improvements into quantifiable positive changes on the ground. More specifically, the UN will strengthen its advocacy and support for proposed legal aid reforms, particularly legal aid for children, survivors of gender-based violence, people living with HIV and other vulnerable groups facing deprivation of liberty.