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Tuesday, 24 August 2021 09:34
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Vietnam’s application of the human rights-based approach to development-policy planning

(LLCT) - The principle of policy process in general and policy development in particular places humans at the center of the policy making and implementation process. Access to human rights in policymaking is also a very important part of the institutionalization of international commitments that countries pursue. The article focuses on clarifying Vietnam’s application of the human rights-based approach to policy making and development over the past years.

1. An overview of the human rights-based approach

Together with peace - security and development, human rights is one of the three main pillar contents of the United Nations. Human rights are also a major theme in international relations and a focus in development policy making in countries around the world.

Since its inception (in 1945) and especially over the past two decades, the United Nations has always welcomed all initiatives aimed at bringing human rights standards (as recognized in basic international documents on human rights) to become a reality on a global scale. One of the initiatives is to apply a human rights-based approach to development-policy making. In 1997, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, while initiating the program of reform of the United Nations organization and activities, formally called for the inclusion of human rights in all activities of the United Nations. In response to this call, organizations under the United Nations have incorporated a human rights-based approach into their practice from the late 1990s up to now. Since then, many countries around the world have also promoted the application of a human rights-based approach, and considered human rights at the center of the planning and implementation of national development policies.

Theoretically, the viewpoint by the United Nations (through Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) on a Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) is considered mainstream, relatively comprehensive and often widely cited. Accordingly, the human rights-based approach is understood as: “...a conceptual framework for the process of human development that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights”(1).

The afore-mentioned concept shows that the human rights-based approach aims to ensure specific human rights with a balance of two factors: the content of human rights and the way human rights are exercised. This means that the human rights-based approach has not only concerns with achieving set goals, but also focuses on the processes and ways to be chosen to achieve those goals. In addition, the human rights-based approach “takes human rights standards as the basis to define the expected results and uses the human rights principles as the condition and framework for the process that would result therefrom”(2).

That a human rights-based approach focuses on the interests of vulnerable groups in society and especially those at risk of being marginalized is the most important meaning of its application in development policy formulation. Those people are in a disadvantaged position, or in other words, weak in many aspects such as economy, culture, society and have more difficulties than other social groups who can get access to, and enjoy achievements brought about by development policies of the State. Therefore, in planning and implementing development policies, it is necessary to increase the awareness of State agencies on the relationship among rights, obligations and responsibilities between development goals and people’s rights. Focusing on human rights also means making the activities of the State more sustainable and lasting as in terms of the nature of the problem, when the rights and interests of the people are realized, the State has succeeded in achieving the goals of management, ensuring the fulfillment of national responsibility for international commitments on human rights.

The human rights-based approach in planning and implementing policies and development programs is an approach that affirms the inherent rights, interests and freedoms of the rights holders and indicate the respective obligations and liabilities of duty bearers. Rights holders are individuals, citizens, vulnerable social groups in society, while duty bearers are state officials, public employees, public services providers, organizations, corporations, businesses, etc. Duty bearers are obliged to respect, guarantee and exercise the human rights of the rights holders.

The relationship between rights holders and duty bearers can only really be effective when the application of the human rights-based approach to development-policy making is based on the following principles: i) Legality in decision making; (ii) Transparency in implementation of programs, plans and policies; (iii) Accountability of rights holders; (iv) Empowerment of vulnerable social groups, marginalized groups; (v) Participation of rights holders in the process of planning and implementing policies; (vi) Equality, no discrimination.

More specifically, the following basic contents must be shown in the application of a human rights-based approach in the process of planning and implementing development policies.

Firstly, fundamental human rights standards and principles are used in the development, implementation, and performance evaluation of development programs and projects.

Secondly, the capacity of the concerned entities must be analyzed and evaluated, improving the capacity of right holders and the responsibilities of duty bearers.

Thirdly, the relationship between right holders and duty bearers must be clarified to exercise the rights. A rights-based approach requires a clear definition of the roles of the parties and emphasizes the responsibility of duty bearers to exercise the rights in an open, transparent, and non-discriminatory manner.

Fourthly, attention must be paid to vulnerable groups, especially those who are at risk of exclusion from the development process when results of programs, projects and policies are desired.

Currently, there are many different approaches to policy making and implementation. Besides human rights-based approaches, there are other approaches such as Charity Approach (CA), Needs Approach (NA), Innovative Approach, Positive Approach, etc.. Each approach has its own pros and cons. Compared with other approaches, the human rights-based approach has many advantages, contributing to a highly effective policy making and implementation process in practice. These advantages can be clearly seen through the following comparison table(3):

Some remarks can be shown as follows:

Firstly, while a needs approach emphasizes social needs, focuses on the needs and requirements, then suggests solutions in the direction of providing benefits to meet the needs, a human rights-based approach is people-centered to consider and solve problems. Therefore, a human rights-based approach is an effective approach in promoting the development of the relationship between human rights and development(4).

Secondly, a human rights-based approach is more robust than a needs approach and charity approach.

Thirdly, a rights-based approach ensures basic human rights and stable foundation for human development, thus being ethical, humane, fair and social.

Fourthly, a human rights-based approach resolves the relationship between rights holders and duty-bearers in a frank, practical and reasonable manner.

2. Practical application of the human rights-based approach in Vietnam today

Despite of being still relatively new in Vietnam, the human rights-based approach has been initially applied to solve practical problems of the country by state agencies and socio-political organizations in the recent years.

In terms of legal system building and completion in general, the most outstanding achievement to mention is that human rights have become the content of a separate chapter of the 2013 Constitution, which clearly defines human rights, citizenship and responsibility of the State, agencies and organizations in the recognition, respect, protection and guarantee of human rights. This is the most important basis for applying human rights-based approaches to policy formulation in different areas of social life. In fact, the human rights-based approach has been initially applied to policy planning and formulation by the Government, ministries and agencies, to some important areas such as criminal justice, labor, health, education, administration, economy, culture, ethnicity, religion, and so on.

In particular, vulnerable social groups such as women, children, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, etc. have benefited significantly from the application of a rights-based approach in the policy-making and formulation process targeted at these vulnerable groups. Over the years, many policies have been issued by the Government to facilitate the development of these vulnerable social groups.

For example, for ethnic minorities, some typical policies that apply human rights-based approaches could be named as Program 135 on socio-economic development of extremely difficult communes, mountainous, remote and isolated areas of ethnic people; Decision 134/2004 / QD-TTg dated 20-7-2004 of the Prime Minister on support for production land, residential land, housing and water for disadvantaged ethnic minorities; Project of promoting communication and mobilization of ethnic minorities, mountainous, border and island areas in the 2016-2020 period of the Committee for Ethnic Minorities; etc.

Other target groups such as women, children and the poor are also facilitated in social policies such as policies on labor and employment, salary, social insurance, labor safety, social protection, children protection, gender equality, etc. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the State has flexibly applied the human rights-based approach to policy making to help disadvantaged people in society. For example, the Government issued Resolution No. 42 / NQ-CP dated April 9, 2020 on measures to support people facing difficulties due to the Covid-19 pandemic; the Prime Minister issued Decision No. 15/2020 / QD-TTg dated April 22, 2020 regulating the implementation of policies to support people facing difficulties due to the Covid-19 pandemic, etc.

Thanks to the above guidelines and policies, relevant rights holders are given many opportunities to exercise their human rights, at the same time, duty bearers (State agencies and authority) step-by-step raise a sense of responsibility in ensuring the rights of these rights holders, thereby contributing to the country’s socio-economic development in recent years.

However, awareness of the human rights-based approach still remains limited due to different objective and subjective reasons. Up to now, there has been no official document of the Party or State recognizing the human rights-based approach. These shortcomings make the application of human rights-based approaches to policy making not really synchronous, of low effectiveness in some sectors and branches, affecting the overall quality of the work of ensuring human rights in general.

From the application of the human rights approach to policy making in our country today, a number of recommendations are proposed to better apply this method in the coming time, specifically:

Firstly, a thorough grasp of the Party’s guidelines and viewpoints on the protection and promotion of human rights should be facilitated. The Party’s viewpoints on human rights in the Party’s documents should be considered as a guideline when applying the human rights-based approach to development policy making in Vietnam now and in the coming time.

Secondly, State’s policies and laws in all areas of social life should be continually improved to create a solid legal basis for human rights-based approach to be applied to development policy making. In particular, it is necessary to focus on the recognition and good assurance of human rights of vulnerable social groups on the principle of equality and non-discrimination.

Thirdly, a human rights-based approach should be made a working principle of State agencies in planning and implementing development policies to respect and ensure human rights, for social progress and social equality. Socio-economic development must be based on human rights, using human rights standards as a basis to determine the expected results of socio-economic development policies, while taking the principles of human rights as the conditions and framework for the process of achieving that result. In addition, the activities of State agencies must be human rights-based, people-centered; respect and guarantee the rights fulfillment for the people.

Fourthly, civil services should be vigorously reformed; the quality of cadres and civil servants who are directly involved in ensuring human rights and citizen’s rights on the basis of compliance with the Constitution and laws as well as ensuring the main principles of a socialist law-governed state should be further improved. In particular, it is necessary to focus on fostering and raising awareness of officials and civil servants about principles and standards of human rights in international law and national law.

Fifthly, communication and dissemination of legal information on human rights and citizenship should be promoted in order to raise awareness of all people on this practical issue. On that basis, to promote the people’s rights to mastery, people should be attracted to participate widely and actively in the process of making policies for the country.

To summarize, flexibly and creatively applying the human rights-based approach to development-policy making is of both theoretical and practical importance, because it aims to build a society in which rights of all people are respected, recognized and fulfilled, contributing to a prosperous society.



(1), (4) Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: Frequently Asked Questions on a Human Rights-Based Approach to Development Cooperation, United Nations, New York and Geneva, 2006, p.17.

(2) United Nations: A Human Rights-based Toolkit. See: http://www.un.org.vn/en/publications/doc_details/115-a-human-rights-based-approach-toolkit.html.


(3) The Danish Institute for Human Rights: “Applying a Right-based Approach - An Inspirational Guide for Civic Society”, 2007, p.10.Dr.

Le Xuan Tung

Institute of Human Rights,

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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