• Indigenous peoples in Vietnam

    Indigenous peoples in Vietnam

Indigenous World 2019: Vietnam

As a multi-ethnic country, Vietnam has 54 recognised ethnic groups, 53 of which are Ethnic Minority (EM) groups.

These groups comprise an estimated 14 million people or around 14.6% of the country’s total population of some 98 million. Each EM group has its own distinct culture and traditions. The term “ethnic minorities” is often used interchangeably with “indigenous peoples” in Vietnam. All EM have Vietnamese citizenship, and Vietnam’s Constitution recognises that all people have equal rights. Among EM communities, there is a higher proportion of peoples living in poverty. While the national poverty rate is 5.35%, it is still 50-60% within the EM population. The process of poverty reduction is unstable, and there is a high poverty relapse rate.1 Approximately 54,000 households lack access to land for cultivation, 58,000 households lack residential land, and 223,000 households lack access to drinking water.2

Since the 2018 edition of Indigenous World, Vietnam has ratified two additional conventions on human rights, namely the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Convention Against Torture (CAT) (February 2015).Vietnam is thus now a member of seven of the nine core international human rights instruments and continues to consider ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances (CPED) and the International Convention on the Protection of all Rights of Migrant Workers and their families (ICRMW).

Vietnam has not ratified ILO Convention No.169,3 and although Vietnam voted in favour of the UNDRIP it does not recognise ethnic minorities as indigenous peoples. 


In 2018, at least 246 people who participated in rallies against the draft laws on the creation of Special Zones and on Internet security were arrested and imprisoned. These arrests were carried out under judgements and criminal convictions of a variety of violations, including “dissemination of propaganda against the state” or “activities to overthrow the government” or “breaking the solidarity”. These convictions have carried tough penalties, with most resulting in sentences of 10-20 years of imprisonment. Among these were some 30 EM people from the Central Highland who were convicted on charges of “breaking the solidarity”, with 6-12 years of imprisonment.4

The right to freedom of movement is stipulated in the Constitution and asserted in the Civil Law, Law on Nationality, Investment Law and other relevant legal documents. It is a consistent policy of Vietnam to guarantee lawful, safe and regular migration, prevent illegal migration, and protect the legitimate rights and interests of citizens during the migration process in its entirety.5

However, when EM such as Mong, Yao, Tay, and Nung people migrate from the North to the Central Highland, fuelled by a shortage of land for cultivation and difficulties in living conditions, these migrants are considered “illegal migrants”. This label causes them to suffer many deprivations in terms of rights, including: not being able to register for residence; not enjoying the benefits of policies for EM such as fee exemptions/reductions for tuition and free medical care; being denied birth certificates and/or having the child marked as “illegitimate” etc.6

Local authorities have applied many actions to prevent “illegal migration”, such as forcing migrants to return to their homeland. However, these people become landless as they have already sold all their property, including land, before leaving and are not able to buy it back.7

Assimilation efforts and defending rights to cultural practice

There were complaints in December 2018 regarding a communal notification of the People’s Committee in Hoa Binh province. This notification cancelled the traditional spring festival of Mong people in four communes and changed it coincide with the country’s common Tet holiday. Mong people in this locality have not been able to enjoy the spring festival in line with their traditional calendar since this notification. Mong people in other areas of Vietnam (such as in Mu Cang Chai, Tram Tau (Yen Bai province) or in Ha Giang, Lai Chau and Dien Bien) had already “been successfully persuaded” to give up their traditional festival and join the common national Tet holiday. However, in many other localities, regardless of the “persuasion” campaigns of local authorities, people are still organising their own traditional festivals.8

Implementation of UPR recommendations

Vietnam is up for review by the UPR mechanism in 2019. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) announced the receipt of 77 reports submitted to the UN Human Rights Council by organisations both inside and outside Vietnam. They include little information on how situations surrounding the use and preservation of the environment relate to and are affected by human rights structures. These reports also lack information on injustices related to land management and disputes.

The UPR included 57 individual reports and 20 common reports; of these 25 of the 57 individual reports and eight of the 20 common reports were from Vietnam’s domestic organisations and associations. This is a major achievement for domestic organisations compared to the second term (2014) and first term (2009) of the UPR when there were no domestic organisations included. The Centre for Sustainable Development in Mountainous Areas (CSDM) has also submitted its report accordingly.9

During the second cycle of the UPR, Vietnam accepted 182 out of 227 recommendations. There were 34 recommendations on protecting the rights of vulnerable groups, and nine on EM groups were accepted. In 2015, the prime minister approved the Masterplan for the Implementation of the Accepted Recommendations, assigning specific implementation tasks to 18 agencies and a number of other coordinating units. Various agencies have actively developed their own action plans in relevant areas and have effectively mainstreamed the implementation of UPR recommendations into socio-economic development strategies and plans such as the 2016-2020 National Target Program for Sustainable Poverty Reduction, the 2016-2020 National Target Program for New Rural Areas, and the Plan for the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda. To narrow the socio-economic gap among the ethnicities, the government has adopted the 2017-2020 Special Policy on Socio-economic Development Assistance for EM and Mountainous Regions, Program 135 under the 2016 – 2020 National Target Program for Sustainable Poverty Reduction, and many other important projects.10 11 12

By October 2018, Vietnam had implemented 175 recommendations (96.2% of accepted recommendations); of these, 159 have been fully implemented and 16 partially; seven recommendations remain outstanding, either under implementation or with implementation being considered for a suitable time. Several recommendations concerning the making and amendment of laws have also been carefully considered and, in consultation with a wide range of government agencies, NGOs and citizens, draft laws submitted to the National Assembly for consideration. A number of amendments have been accepted by the National Assembly.13

Land rights

Land issues were not mentioned in the draft of the 3rd Universal Period Review14 (UPR) of Vietnam, despite lobbying efforts from civil society and despite this remaining a major and controversial issue. Reasons for land disputes include: a shortage of land for cultivation, causing people to claim land illegally; land mismanagement causing disputes among different groups; the transformation of land from protective forest lands to production lands in an ambiguous manner; many projects having land allocated but with no effective implementation due to a lack of capacity within forest protection and management teams, all of which results in the loss, appropriation and trading of forests. According to the Department of Dang Nong Agriculture and Rural Development, there are 40 projects, with more than 31,600 ha of land allocated, being inefficiently implemented in non-compliance with the planning.15 In the Central Highland, approximately 285,000 ha of land with and without ownership certificates has remained in prolonged litigation for more than 20 years.16 The main land disputes are between local EM people and state/private forestry companies. A typical dispute dates from July 2018 when a Nung person from Quang Truc commune, Tuy Duc district, Dac Nong province was convicted and sentenced to death because he had shot and killed three people and injured 16 more. This violence was the consequence of a land dispute that had been continuing for many years with a private company that wanted to encroach on the land claimed by the IP man.17

In central provinces such as Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Thua Thien – Hue, forest land disputes are long-lasting and regular.18  In this area, EM people have lost their forest land, upland fields, pasture lands, jobs, wages and compensation for land, which the company has not paid. In addition, they have lost valuable natural water resources and their income from forest products, while the land has been degraded significantly as a result of commercial eucalyptus cultivation.

Access to justice

Between 2014 and 2018, Vietnam amended, revised and promulgated 96 new laws and ordinances related to human and citizens’ rights in compliance with and to help institutionalise the 2013 Constitution. These laws included: the Civil Code (2015), the Law on Beliefs and Religions (2016), the Law on Children (2016), the Press Law (2016), the Law on Access to Information (2016), and the Law on Legal Assistance (2017). However, EM people’s access to justice is still very limited, especially for women and youth. Access to the judicial system occurs primarily through village leaders but, even then, on a very limited basis. Access is available through the communal authorities but the police are rarely contacted. The regulations on prohibiting complaints in groups and beyond administrative levels and the people’s inability to overcome them remain some of the biggest barriers to local people having their litigation resolved, especially for disputes relating to lands and forests. This has not been addressed in recent legislation.

EM women and youth

To address gender issues, on 27 April 2007, the Communist Party of Vietnam issued Resolution No.11-NQ/TW on promoting women’s participation in the period of accelerated national industrialisation and modernisation. The author has produced a case study on the impact of the policies under Resolution 11 that relate to EM women in Vietnam.

The author collected together 56 policy documents and two national programs related to EM from 2007 to 2017. The two major conclusions from an analysis of these documents are that: 1) the roles and rights of EM women are not reflected in most national and provincial policies, and Resolution 11 has not been mentioned in most specific laws, policies or action programs related to EM; 2) Resolution No.11 has not been clarified in the laws and policies promulgated by the government and authorities. The 53 official documents which were analysed did not take Resolution No. 11 as their base guideline.19 

EM youth

There has recently been an increase in research papers on EM youth who leave home to find job opportunities in urban areas. The major reasons for their movements are: a shortage of opportunities to forge a stable livelihood and attempts to escape from social formalities and improve their own capacity and preparation for changing jobs in the future.20 EM youth consider family homes as “safe spaces” to which they can return when there are ups and downs. EM youth movements are influenced by relationships among their family and villages; the first to move will persuade others to follow, often outside of official employment channels. Most EM youth are basic labourers who are more vulnerable and at risk of discrimination when finding jobs. EM discrimination results in discrimination during recruitment, work and promotion. Their characteristics (such as accents, names, costumes, skin colours, etc.) make EM youth easily identifiable, and they are humiliated, considered “primitive”, discriminated against and sometimes face violence as a result. Most EM youth work with employers on the basis of trust and mutual agreement, without signing a contract. Due to a lack of awareness about labour law, human rights or the concept/idea of a contract, they most often do not insist on one being signed. As a result, they are easily cheated or deprived of their rights. The urban socio-economic scenario also serves to blur and eliminate their indigenous cultural practices.21

Notes and references

  1. Decision No. 59/2015/QD-TTg of 19 November 2015 on the multidimensional approach to poverty standard for the period 2016-2020
  2. See http://bit.ly/2SKeR5b; http://bit.ly/2RZ5B8H; http://bit.ly/2N4WWku;
  3. See http://bit.ly/2N0Q47F
  4. See http://bit.ly/2N4r1Rd
  5. See the results of the third UPR
  6. See http://bit.ly/2N3IuJs
  7. At present, there are approximately 25 million people living in mountainous areas, of which some 14 million are See http://bit.ly/2N3JbCx
  8. See OHCHR | Universal Periodic Review Vietnam at http://bit.ly/2N1UkDX
  9. See the results of the 3rd UPR
  10. Evaluation on policy and programme on social and economic development in mountainous areas – Recommendations for the period 2021-2025, towards 2030.
  11. Important projects noted in the 3rd UPR include: Decision for the Implementation of the SDGs concerning ethnic minorities (2015), Project on Socio-economic Development Assistance for ethnic micro-minorities for the period 2016-2025, the Project on Assisting Gender Equality Activities in Ethnic Minority Areas for the period 2018-2025, the Project on Reducing Early Marriage and Intermarriage in Ethnic Minorities Area for the period 2015-2025, the 2016 Project on Ethnic Minorities Issues Training for officials and public servants, and the Project on Assisting Ethnic Minorities in the Application of Information
  12. See the results of the 3rd UPR
  13. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique mechanism of the Human Rights Council (HRC) aimed at improving the human rights situation on the ground of each of the 193 United Nations (UN) Member States. Under this mechanism, the human rights situation of all UN Member States is reviewed every 5 years by other Member The result of each review is reflected in the Final Report of the Working Group, which lists the recommendations the State under review (SuR) will have to implement before the next review.
  14. See http://bit.ly/2N5B48h
  15. Ibidem
  16. See http://bit.ly/2N52hYI; http://bit.ly/2N4rbbh; http://bit.ly/2N2hASc; http://ly/2N1DUv4
  17. See http://bit.ly/2N43n7h; http://bit.ly/2N53Hm0; http://bit.ly/2N53P4Y; http://bit.ly/2N4Xmay; http://bit.ly/2N0QxGX; http://bit.ly/2N43rE3
  18. Resolution No. 11-NQ / TW of the Communist Party of Vietnam was promulgated on 27 April 2007 on women’s affairs in the period of accelerated national industrialization and modernization. The goal of the Resolution is: By 2020, women’s capacity will be raised for all aspects to meet the requirements of industrialization, modernization and international economic integration; their material, cultural and spiritual life will be improved; consequently, women will be increasingly involved in social works and equality in all fields, providing increasing contributions to the society and their
  19. Study on EM youth migrant working in northern cities of Vietnam by the Institute of Social and Environment Study
  20. Ibidem

Luong Thi Truong is the director of the Vietnamese NGO Centre for Sustainable Development in Mountainous Areas (CSDM). She belongs to the Thai ethnic minority in Vietnam. She was selected as the ethnic minority representative to the Program Executive Board of UN-REDD+ Vietnam in 2018.



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