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UN expert on ethnic minorities calls for more bilingual education

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ethnicHanoi, 22 July, 2010 - Despite Viet Nam’s progress in boosting economic growth and reducing poverty, the country’s ethnic minorities continue to remain the poorest of the poor, says United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues Ms Gay McDougall, following a ten-day mission to the country to examine the human rights situation of Viet Nam’s numerous minority groups.

According to the independent expert, bilingual education could play a major role in redressing this situation.

“Access to quality and appropriate education is a gateway to development and poverty eradication for minorities, and it is equally essential for the preservation and promotion of minority cultures, languages and identities,” said Ms McDougall.

She noted that Viet Nam has enjoyed a period of economic growth, as well as progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the globally agreed targets for slashing poverty, boosting school enrolment rates, improving maternal health and increasing access to clean water and decent sanitation, all by 2015.

Despite these developments, “persistent problems” remain for many members of the country’s minority groups, she added.

Ms. McDougall stressed bilingual education as an area of “high priority” for Viet Nam, where there are 54 recognized distinct ethnic groups with unique religious, linguistic and cultural characteristics and identities.

Despite significant progress in the provision of education infrastructure, according to Ms. McDougall, minorities are achieving poor results relative to majority students and much more needs to be done to address this fact.

“Minorities lack adequate opportunities to be taught in their own minority languages from the earliest years of education and struggle with being taught only in Vietnamese,” said the expert, who reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in an independent and unpaid capacity.

“Bilingual education helps minority children to make better early progress and provides a strong and culturally appropriate foundation for their future schooling,” she stated, citing a successful pilot project for bilingual education carried out by the Ministry of Education and Training and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

In addition to highlighting the merits of bilingual education, Ms. McDougall emphasized that the rights of minorities include freedom to practice their religions without restriction, freedom of association and expression, the right of peaceful assembly, the equal right to own and use land and the right to participate fully and effectively in decision-making regarding issues that affect them.

Ms McDougall visited Hanoi and travelled to regions with significant minority populations from July 5 to 15, 2010, including the provinces of Dien Bien in the Northern Highlands, Tra Vinh in the Mekong Delta region and Gia Lai and Kon Tum provinces in the Central Highlands.

She will present her full report to the Human Rights Council in March 2011.

The mandate of the Independent Expert is one of the thematic Special Procedures human rights mandates reporting to the UN Human Rights Council. Gay McDougall (United States) was appointed as the first holder of the post of UN Independent Expert on minority issues in July 2005. The Independent Expert on minority issues is required to promote implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities and to identify challenges as well as positive practices in regard to minority issues.

For press inquiries and additional information on the Independent Expert’s mission, please contact Mr. Graham Fox, OHCHR Human Rights Officer (Mobile: +41 22 9179640 / e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )