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Opening Remarks by Kamal Malhotra United Nations Resident Coordinator, Viet Nam at Legal Forum on Law Implementation on the Protection of the Poor and Vulnerable Groups in Judicial Areas

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Event: Legal Forum on Law Implementation on the Protection of the Poor and Vulnerable Groups in Judicial Areas

Date: December 13, 2018

Venue: Sheraton Hotel, K5 Nghi Tam, 11 Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho, Ha Noi, Viet Nam

  • Vice Minister of Justice, Nguyen Khanh Ngoc;
  • Excellency Bruno Angelet; EU Ambassador in Vietnam
  • Representatives from line Ministries and Justice agencies;
  • Colleagues from the United Nations, development partners, and socio-political organizations.

I am very pleased to speak at this Legal Forum on "law implementation on the protection of the poor and vulnerable groups in judicial areas", co-hosted by the Ministry of Justice, the United Nations and the EU Delegation in Viet Nam.

Just a few days ago we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December. That important Declaration of 10 December 1948 marked the starting point of the global human rights movement. Together with the UN Charter, the Declaration is also one of the founding documents of the United Nations, which guides the work of the UN in Vietnam. It has been translated into more than 500 languages, including Vietnamese. The words of former UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon on the Universal Declaration are particularly relevant to the focus of this Legal Forum which is on poor and vulnerable groups so please allow me to quote him: "Let us ensure that those people who most need their rights protected are made aware that this Declaration exists — and that it exists for them."

Back in 1948 when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, the drafters already included in the Declaration the fundamental guarantee that everyone should have the right to a fair and public trial by an independent and impartial tribunal. The Declaration also referred to the principle of presumption of innocence which remains to this day one of the cornerstones of any criminal justice system.

Around the world, as in Vietnam, most of the people who can't enjoy these fundamental rights and guarantees often belong to the poorest and most vulnerable groups, which include victims of gender-based violence, children , persons with disabilities, members of ethnic minorities, LGBTI persons, and so on. For these people, equality before the law can be a distant dream.

This is often due to the fact that they have limited access to legal information in the first place and are therefore not aware of or have limited understanding of their rights. Legal information may also not be available in a language they understand or in a format that is accessible to them.

In addition, poor and vulnerable groups often face great challenges in terms of access to legal assistance. Many of them cannot afford the services of a lawyer. Their only option is to try and obtain the services of state lawyers working for the National Legal Aid Agency as in Vietnam. Because of limited resources, not all those who need it can benefit from such legal aid services. The quality of such legal aid lawyers also varies.

We are fortunate that the Law on Legal Aid in Vietnam was amended last year and has expanded the list of groups of persons who are now eligible for state assisted legal aid.

It is equally important that the justice system addresses the needs of vulnerable groups. Lawyers, law enforcement officers, judges and prosecutors should receive focused trainings on how to address these needs. For instance, access to justice for minors requires all justice personnel to be adequately trained to provide greater protection to minors as victims, witnesses and offenders.

In many cases, NGOs who already work with vulnerable groups and are very familiar with their specific needs can make an important contribution in terms of increasing their access to justice. It would be important and useful to build on and increase the synergies between the work of such NGOs and that of the justice agencies.

The issue of access to justice for poor and vulnerable groups is not just a human rights issue, it is also closely related to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Just several months ago, on 16 July, Viet Nam presented its Voluntary National Review on SDG implementation to the UN's High Level Political Forum in New York. The key SDG 16 on peace, justice and stronger institutions aims to strengthen the rule of law. One dimension of the rule of law is to ensure equal access to justice for all. Together, we need to ensure that, when it comes to access to justice, no one is left behind. As you know, this is both a central principle and objective of the UN's global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

To this end, the UN and the Government of Vietnam, with generous financial support from the European Union, are implementing a new Programme on justice and legal empowerment called EU JULE. As you will hear later this morning, the overall objective of the Programme is to strengthen the rule of law through a more reliable, trusted and better accessed justice system. Through an ambitious set of interventions, we will seek to increase access to justice for women, children and vulnerable groups, including ethnic minorities and poor people to ensure that no one is left behind. This programme will help Viet Nam implement SDG16.

The EU JULE Programme was launched in October 2018 and activities have started around the country. The first workshop took place in Can Tho last week, co-chaired by Vice-Minister Ngoc and addressing the issue of civil registration for vulnerable groups. There are many more activities, involving not just the Ministry of Justice, but also the Supreme People's Court, the Supreme People's Procuracy and the National Assembly. We look forward to working with many more Vietnamese agencies in the coming months.

Two UN agencies, namely UNDP and UNICEF, will be drawing on their respective expertise to implement the programme together with the Government and other partners. Both UNDP and UNICEF have a long history of engagement with the Government and people of Viet Nam in the area of justice. Building on this long standing trusted partnership with Viet Nam, we are confident that we can support the Government in delivering high quality and consequential results in order to increase access to justice for poor and vulnerable groups.

Thank you! Xin cảm ơn!