Speech of Vietnamese non-governmental organizations

For Poverty Reduction Session of Vietnam Development Partnership Forum 2013.

Your Excellency Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, Chairs , and distinguished guests.

First of all, on behalf of Vietnamese non-governmental organizations, I would like to thank the government and the development partners for organizing the Vietnam Development Partnership Forum, for the first time offering local NGOs, who work directly with the community, the opportunity to contribute solutions to Vietnam’s economic, social and cultural problems. The opinions I am going to present have been contributed by some NGOs working with ethnic minorities and poverty reduction.

We highly appreciate the government’s efforts during the past decades in reducing poverty and striving for a better life of millions of impoverished household countrywide, including ethnic minorities.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that the poverty rate among ethnic minorities is much higher than the Kinh’s. According to the World Bank,  for every two Vietnamese living in poverty, one belongs to ethnic minority groups, and for every four Vietnamese living in extreme poverty, ethnic minorities account for three. These figures imply that allowance-and-welfare-based assistance programs are insufficient, especially in the current context of economic difficulty and budget deficit. Vietnamese non-governmental organizations propose the government consider our following recommendations:

First, land and forest land is ethnic minorities’ main source of living as they do not have as much access to non-agricultural job opportunities in industrial zones and urban areas as low-land Kinh people. Therefore, we suggest the government consider allocating land and forest land to households, especially ethnic minority ones, including production forests managed by state forest enterprises and communal People’s Committees, legalize customary ownership of land and forests. Besides, the government should provide institutional, financial and technical supports for the community to manage and benefit from the forests. This process should be considered in the to be developed decree to guide the implementation of Land Law, preparing for the upcoming amendment of the Law on Forest Protection and Development.

Second, the government and responsible organizations should encourage and appreciate the voice of the community, including ethnic minority, on economic and social development projects, especially hydropower, mining, and plantation projects that affect their lives. The government may consider issuing a decree on the strict application of consensus principle, ensuring people’s right to be fully informed, freedom of discussion, and right to approve or disapprove the projects. This will help avoid community conflicts, water pollution, land lost, and the destruction of livelihoods and traditional cultures of local people and ethnic minorities.

Third, studies show that media, policy and social discourses still contain misunderstandings, prejudice and discrimination against ethnic minority cultures and do not consider them the agents of development. This impedes people’s participation and voice and diminishes the effectiveness of the government’s development programs, which in the long run, may leads to their overdependence on external assistance. Thus, for the time being, we propose the government initiate training programs for local government officers to understand and respect the diversity of culture and way of living. In the long term, the government should consider a draft law on ethnic minorities, which conforms to the principles of UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that Vietnam has adopted, and to Article 5 of the recently-approved revised Constitution, which maintains that: “All ethnicities are equal, live in solidarity, respect and support each other to develop; all acts of ethnic discrimination and division are prohibited.”

These are opinions of Vietnamese non-governmental organizations. Thank you for listening.