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Ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities and combating the exploitation of ethnic issues in our country
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Ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities and combating the exploitation of ethnic issues are of special importance to national construction and defense. Source: Political Theory Review

The interaction between ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities and fighting against the exploitation of ethnic issues

The rights of ethnic minorities are generally classified into two catagories: one of common rights of each member of each ethnic group and the other of collective rights applied to ethnic minority community. Effective ensuring human rights in the area of ethnic minorities is a vividly practical and legal evidence that refutes distortion, allegations and sabotage of hostile forces; the best way to protect the truth, and justice of the Party, State and people in the care and protection of legitimate human rights; the proactive prevention and response to all risks arising from ethnic issues to avoid creating excuse for the enemy’s sabotage; an environment that helps ethnic groups (majority and minority) to develop in a healthy manner, shape genuine national spirit, build solidarity, equality and respect and harmoniously settle relations among ethnic groups and help each other to develop; the resistance of ethnic minorities in face of all distortion and sabotage activities of hostile forces to divide and split the national unity bloc. Effective combating hostile forces’ exploitation of the ethnic issue will create a stable environment for people to build the unity bloc, equality and mutual help for development. The struggle in the field of ideology has the role of nipping in the bud ideology and theory of extreme nationalism, separatism, helping nations to shape genuine national consciousness; merging human rights with citizen rights, rights and obligations, individual rights of each member with collective rights, collective rights with national rights. Effective fighting helps the Party and State affirm the legitimacy in multilateral and bilateral forums, consolidate position and prestige, thereby take advantage of international opinion and resources while concentrating domestic resources for investment in the development of ethnic groups. Conflicts and divisions not only make environment of ethnic groups less stable, and do not pool investment resources for development, but also lead to dispersed human and material resources, causing disturbance in planning, socio-economic development plan, and missing development opportunities. Combating also implies the internal fight, especially against misconceptions, and wrong behavior of a part of cadres and people in ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities. This will ensure that the implementation of ethnic policies is implemented in a synchronous, comprehensive and consistent manner with high sense of responsibility and awareness of the entire political system, majority and minority ethnic groups, and of all economic sectors.

Ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities and fighting against schemes to take advantage of ethnic issues are unanimous in the common goals, leadership and management, in unified national and ethnic interests and use of forces. The common goal of securing the rights of ethnic minorities and combating the exploitation of ethnic affairs is to build a prosperous people, strong country, democratic and civilized society, firmly defend independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, protect the Party, State, people and the socialist regime, safeguard the cause of renewal, industrialization and modernization, national interests, environment of peace and political stability, national security, social order and safety for national development, cultural identity of the Vietnamese nation. Ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities and fighting against the use of ethnic issues in Vietnam are led by the Party, managed by the state with the participation of the entire political system from setting out lines to implementation, making national interests primary element; and local interests are inseparable from national interests.

However, ensuring and fighting, each has its own content due to differences in specific objectives, targets, specialized forces and specialized working methods. As far as immediate objectives are concerned, if ensuring ethnic rights is to respect and protect the legitimate rights of ethnic minorities, fighting is to foil schemes, maneuvers and activities of hostile forces to take advantage of national, religious and human right issues to sabotage national unity, and incite extreme nationalism and separatism. In terms of targets, if the targets of ethnic right guarantee are ethnic minorities including the collective ethnic groups and members of each ethnic community, the targets of the fight are external enemies who take advantage of ethnic minority issues to carry out sabotage activities, internal reactionaries which lend a hand to external hostile forces to conduct acts against national interests, and divide the national unity bloc. Meanwhile specialized forces ensure the right of ethnic minorities; organizations and individuals have the tasks of organizing and implementing policies on economic, cultural and social development and national defense and security, foreign policy, ecological environment protection. Each force has its own role and position in implementing multisectoral/intersectoral policies. Of these forces the specialised agency on ethnic minority affairs has an extremely critical role. Though multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary forces are needed to combat capitalization of ethnic issues, the core team must include the public security force, people's army, ideological theorists, journalists in the field of ideology and theory. Regarding specialized working methods, if the rights of ethnic minorities are guaranteed by economic, administrative and civil measures, through policies and laws on respect, protection and care for human rights, programs and projects for investment in socio-economic development, consolidation of the political system, protection and promotion of cultural identity and ecological environment, the combat against capitalization of ethnic issues requires combination of armed and non-armed measures, including the specialized measures of armed forces to foil attempts to set up connection, basis and rally forces to split the national unity bloc, instigate subversion, and separatism.

Ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities and fighting against the exploitation of ethnic issues: An issue of special importance in national construction and defense

In order to improve effective settlement of this problem, it is necessary to pay attention to the following issues:

First, it is important to fully understand the role and important position of ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities in addressing ethnic issues in Viet Nam.

Ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities is of special importance to the stability and development of the country. It is governed by geopolitical, economic, humane and environmental conditions of ethnic minority areas, the complexity of the ethnic issues due to historical reasons, limited investment resources, and barriers of customs, habits and development levels, especially sabotage activities of hostile forces. Therefore, ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities cannot be implemented quickly by some programs or projects or only through administrative interventions, but through integrated solutions, with short-term, medium-term and long-term development steps; the previous stage creates premise for the following stage. This is a long, arduous cause which needs big investment resources, including human, financial and material resources, the participation of the political system and enterprises of all economic sectors, mutual assistance for development of ethnic groups to arouse self-reliant spirit of ethnic group themselves.

Second, ensuring the rights of ethnic groups is an intersectoral/multisectoral issue, ranging from economic, political, cultural-social, environmental-ecological, international relations, and national defense and security issues.

Economic rights are an issue that needs to be addressed first, as they relate to the rights to livelihood and development, equal access to resources. Political rights are manifested in the rights to equality of citizens in election, candidacy, engagement in state management, policy-making agenda, in which source creation, training and retraining, placement, use and rational structure of ethnic minority cadres in the political system play a particularly important position. Cultural rights do not only imply preservation and promotion of national cultural identity, but also relate to the most fundamental issues for the maintenance and development of the national community. Environmental and ecological issues are closely related to the rights of people to protect the living space and development of the community. The issue of the rights of ethnic minorities in the modern world is no longer confined to national borders, but transnational, including in international political-legal documents. For example, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992) (1), The Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (1995) (2), The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (1994) (3), The Lund Recommendations on the Effective Participation of National Minorities in Public Life (1999) (4). The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) recognizes the protection of human rights and the rights of ethnic minorities in Articles 2, 4, and 27. In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language (Article 27).

Guaranteeing the rights of ethnic minorities in Vietnam is the work of many entities including the Party, State, Fatherland Front, socio-political organizations, social organizations, businesses of all economic sectors and the whole social community. It is also the settlement of relations between respect for universal values prescribed in the international conventions that Vietnam has committed, taking into fully account special characteristics in ensuring the rights of minorities in Vietnam. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) states: "In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language "(Article 3).

In line with international conventions on human rights, Vietnamese law recognizes and fully guarantees the rights of ethnic minorities. The Vietnamese 2013 Constitution noted:

"The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a unified nation of all ethnicities living together in the country of Vietnam. All the ethnicities are equal and unite with, respect and assist one another for mutual development; all acts of discrimination against and division of the ethnicities are prohibited. The national language is Vietnamese. Every ethnic group has the right to use its own spoken and written language to preserve its own identity and to promote its fine customs, practices, traditions and culture. The State shall implement a policy of comprehensive development and create the conditions for the minority ethnicities to further their internal strengths and develop together with the country" (Article 5); the provisions on the right to equality among ethnicities in the Constitution are institutionalized by the Ethnic Council (Article 75). In addition, the right to equality between ethnic groups is recognized and concretized in many other Vietnamese legal documents, such as the 2008 Nationality Law (Article 1) affirming the equality of the right to a nationality of ethnic minorities; the 2015 Criminal Procedure Code (Article 29), 2015 Civil Procedure Code (Article 20), 2015 Administrative Procedure Law (Article 17, Article 21) provides for equal rights of all citizens to conduct legal proceedings and the right to use their spoken and written languages in legal proceedings. These are stipulations on protection of the rights of ethnic minorities in ensuring the equality of all citizens before the law and the courts. The 1999 Penal Code (Article 1) defines one of the principles of the Penal Code as protecting equality among people of various nationalities. The 2015 Law on the Election of the National Assembly and the People's Councils (Articles 8 and 9) regulates the equal participation of ethnic minorities in the election and running for candidacy to the National Assembly and the People's Councils. Regarding the right to preserve cultural identity, the 2013 Constitution (Article 5) states: "Every ethnic group has the right to use its own spoken and written language to preserve its own identity and to promote its fine customs, practices, traditions and culture.” Article 42 also states: "A citizen has the right to determine his or her ethnicity, use his or her mother tongue and choose his or her language of communication." In many other legal documents, including the of 2015 Civil Code (Articles 5, 7, 26, 29) regulate the application of customs and policies to civil relations, the right to have name, the right to identify, redefine nationality. Vietnamese law also recognizes the right to the State support to develop in all aspects. The 2013 Constitution states: "The State and society shall make investments to further the protection of and care for the people's health, implement the universal health insurance, and adopt policies to prioritize health care for ethnic minority people and people living in mountainous areas, on islands, and in areas that have extremely difficult socio-economic conditions.” (Article 58) The State shall prioritize the development of education in mountainous areas, on islands, in ethnic minority areas, and in areas that have extremely difficult socio-economic conditions (Article 61). The 2005 Education Law (Articles 61 and 82) stipulates the State shall establish boarding general education schools, semi-boarding general education schools, and pre-university schools for ethnic minority children, elaborate policies to rotate teachers and educational administrators, and provide training of ethnic minority languages for teachers and educational administrators working in ethnic minority areas to improve teaching and learning quality; the 2009 Law on Medical Examination and Treatment (Article 4) provides for the policy of the State on medical examination and treatment of ethnic minority people and prioritized budget to meet people's basic needs for medical examination and treatment. The 2014 Law on Civil Status (Article 46, Article 47). The 2012 Labor Code prohibits discrimination against ethnicity (Article 8). These are vivid practical and legal evidences showing that the rights of minorities have been respected, recognized, implemented and protected.

Third, the relationship between the rights of ethnic members and the rights of ethnic collective. This is a very basic relationship in the process of ensuring ethnic rights and combating the exploitation of ethnic issues of hostile forces. The individual rights of people of all nationalities are equal before the law, unifying individual rights and ethnic collective rights of the national community placed in national-ethnic rights. Equality of human rights is enshrined in the Constitution of 2013 and other laws. However, due to low starting point, geographical conditions and language barriers, there has been limitation to the exercise of ethnic minorities’ rights. Therefore, ensuring this right must be prioritized in development policies. All rights from political rights, cultural rights, the right to access to development resources, and the right to security and development can be exercised in two forms: direct and indirect. Political rights are exercised in the form of direct democracy or representative democracy. While ethnic groups scatter and mix and ethnic minorities have very different population levels and sizes, representative democracy plays a very important role in ensuring the political rights of ethnic minorities through the selection and placement of eligible representatives of ethnic groups into the political system at all levels. Representative democracy has the advantage of selecting representatives to join the political structures that direct democracy cannot do and thereby overcome the big differences of population levels and sizes among ethnic groups of which some have less than 10,000 people. Through the promotion of representative democracy, ethnic minorities, especially ethnic minorities with small population, exercise their rights to political inclusion, thereby reflecting the will of people of different ethnic groups, integrating their interests and aspirations in working agenda, policy-making process as well as effectively implementing policies.

The recent election results of the National Assembly, and People's Councils showed the rights to political representation of ethnic minority communities were ensured. On 9 June 2016, the National Election Council announced a resolution on the results of the election to the 14th National Assembly. Accordingly, out of 496 deputies 89 are ethnic minority deputies, equivalent to 17.30% of the elected representatives. During the last four National Assembly legislatures, the proportion of National Assembly deputies from ethnic minorities was 15.6% to 17.27% (compared to 14.3% of ethnic minorities in the country’s total population. Of the 500 deputies to the 13th National Assembly, 78 were ethnic minority people from 29 different ethnic groups in 26 provinces and cities (accounting for 15.6%). In the 2011-2016 legislature, 688 ethnic minority people were elected to the provincial People's Councils, accounting for 18%; 4,237 were elected to the district People’s Councils, accounting for 20.1%; 62,383 people were elected to the communal People’s Councils, accounting for 22.46%. The number of ethnic minority deputies to the 12th National Assembly was 87, accounting for 17.6%, to the 13th National Assembly was 86, accounting for 17.2%. Thus, ethnic minority deputies always account for a large percentage of the total number of deputies in terms of total population. According to a census as of 1 April 2009, the population of Vietnam was 85,846,997, including 54 ethnic groups and foreigners living together, the Kinh group boasted 73,594,427 people, accounting for 85.7%, ethnic minorities made up 14.3% of the total population.

Fourth, on resolving the relation between human rights with civil rights, ethnic rights with national rights of ethnic minorities. This is a very basic, important relation that needs to be fully understood and strictly implemented in the process of ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities and combating the exploitation of national issues. Quite a few ethnic minorities, especially those who often migrate across borders, only respect ethnic and ethnic minority rights, and attach less importance to citizen and national rights. This is often taken advantage of by hostile forces, exaggerating ethnic identity, lowering or denying citizen awareness, provoking extreme nationalism, and separatism. In Vietnam’s history, ethnic groups have formed and developed national and ethnic consciousness "all Vietnamese descendants are brothers and sisters", and defined "Vietnam is a common country"(5) as President Ho Chi Minh affirmed in his Letter to the Congress of Southern Ethnic Minority Groups in Play cu (April 1946). This unites the nation in the cause of national construction and defense to build the country of Vietnam with its territory and multi-ethnic structure as today. Consequently, the education of citizenship and national spirit to ethnic minorities is a particularly important task in the process of securing the rights of peoples. People of any ethnic groups in today's world must settle in, live and work in certain national territories, exercise their rights and obligations toward a state and nationality. It is living in a national territory and under the control of a national state that the members of that nation become citizens and have conditions to exercise their legitimate rights and obligations. Hence, the unification of national and ethnic consciousness with citizen awareness, between human rights and citizen rights, between rights and obligations are very fundamental issues in the process of ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities.

Fifth, on the relations between commonality and special features in ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities in Vietnam. Commonality comes from the universal values of human rights, of people coming from either ethnic minority groups or majority groups, large-population minority groups or small-population ethnic groups, especially the right to security and development. The special features derive from the characteristics of ethnic issue and ethnic relations, from the level of development of each ethnic group and of the nation, from the cultural identity of ethnic minorities in the country. These features can be considered at both the national, regional, and local levels. At the national level, the State recognizes full national rights in the Constitution and laws; appropriate structure representing ethnic groups in the National Assembly, Government, ministries/sectors, ensures the right of ethnic minorities to participate in policy development and implementation. However, it is at the regional and local levels that the diversity of ethnic groups and local groups can be manifested in the implementation of policies to ensure the rights of ethnic minorities. Under the context of a single state model, it is necessary to decentralize the formulation of local policies in order to ensure full account of local and ethnic identity in each management and development policies, in the structure of local political system, and further more to better ensure the rights of ethnic minorities. In localities, suitable management and development models can be chosen depending on the size of the ethnic population, the intermingling of ethnic minority and majority ethnic groups, of local ethnic minorities and immigrating ethnic groups, of large-population ethnic minorities and small-population ethnic minorities. At present, in all communes and villages, ethnic minority villages, state institutions have been established with fairly complete apparatus. But this cannot lead to negligence of customary law, traditional social institution in social management, and local cultural identity preservation. Traditional social institutions always exist in parallel with state institutions, even in places where traditional social institutions have a profound influence on the lives of ethnic minorities. In the current state management system, a village is considered a residential unit, a grassroots social unit but not an administrative level. Each village has a leader with the title of "village head", both in compliance with state law and in accordance with the customary law governing the management of residential units, even people. In some places, people often voluntarily obey customary law rather than legal sanctions. Therefore, paying full attention to local and ethnic characteristics in each management and development policy besides strengthening the central administration's management are major issues that need to be addressed in national policy.

Ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities and fighting against the exploitation of ethnic issues are major issues that need to be fully understood and addressed in the implementation of ethnic policies in our country today.

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(1) The UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, 1992

(2) The Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, 1995

(3) The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, 1994

(4) The Lund Recommendations on the Effective Participation of National Minorities in Public Life, 1999

(5) Ho Chi Minh: Complete Works, The National Political Publishing House - Truth, Hanoi, 2011, pp. 4, 249

This article was published in Communist Review No 897 (July 2017)

Assoc. Prof. Doan Minh Huan, PhDAlternate member of the Central Committee of the Party, Editor-in-Chief of the Communist Review

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