Although each ethnicity has their own cultural identity, the 54 ethnicities share customs and practices in common. Particularly, the Vietnamese people have the long-standing traditions of solidarity and mutual assistance in the fight against foreign invasion, in the exploitation of nature and in the building of the nation.

Following Ho Chi Minh’s words: “The Kinh (Viet), the Tho, the Muong, Man, Gia Rai, E De and all ethnicities share customs and practices in common. Particularly, the Vietnamese people have the long-standing traditions of solidarity and mutual assistance in the fight against foreign invasion, in the exploitation of nature and in the building of the nation.a Rai, E De, Xe Dang or Ba Na and other ethnicities in Vietnam are all the whole brothers, the State of Viet Nam has attached special importance to the ethnic policy while ensuring equal rights among all ethnicities and taking due care of all ethnic minorities, especially those living in remote mountainous border areas.

Equality among ethnicities in legal documents

For a nation state, the constitution is the highest legal document. Since its foundation, the State of Vietnam has promulgated several constitutions, all of which have contained provisions defining the equal rights among the Vietnamese ethnicities. Noticeably, the newer constitution has clearer and more adequate provisions on the rights of the Vietnamese ethnicities. Vietnam’s current constitution – the Constitution of 2013, is widely considered an advanced institution on human rights, including equality among ethnicities. Article 5 of the 2013 Constitution specifies: "The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is the unified State of all ethnicities living together in the country of Vietnam. All ethnicities are equal and united; respect and assist one another for mutual development. All acts of discrimination against and division of ethnicities are strictly prohibited. The national language is Vietnamese. Every ethnic group has the right to use its spoken and written language to preserve its own identity and promote its fine customs, practices, traditions and culture. The State shall “implement a policy of comprehensive development and create conditions for ethnic minorities to further draw upon its internal strengths and develop together with the country". Vietnam’s Constitution also asserts the fundamental and overriding principle of non-discrimination, as embodied in Article 16 of the 2013 Constitution, which reads: "All citizens are equal before law. No one shall be discriminated against based on his or her political, civil, economic, cultural or social life."

Various ethnic minorities can been seen to coexist peacefully together and with one another in some regions. (Photo for illustration.

The afore-mentioned principle of the Constitution has been reflected throughout the entire legal system of Vietnam, institutionalized and embodied by laws, including the Law on National Assembly Election, the Law on Nationality, the Criminal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Civil Code, the Civil Procedure Code, the Labor Code, the Law on Education, the Law on Protection of People's Health, the Law on Compensation Liability of the State and many other legal documents. Over the past ten years, the National Assembly of Vietnam has issued 151 laws, of which 38 laws relate to the rights and obligations of ethnic minorities.

Institutionally, the Ethnic Council elected by the National Assembly is responsible for conducting studies and making recommendations to the National Assembly on ethnic affairs and exercising its rights to supervise the implementation of ethnic policies, programs and plans for social and economic development in mountainous areas with ethnic minorities. The Chairman of the Ethnic Council is entitled to attend the sessions of the Government to discuss the implementation of ethnic policies. Before issuing regulations for implementing ethnic policies, the Government must consult with the Ethnic Council. Furthermore, in the Government’s organizational structure, there is also a ministerial-level agency responsible for executing ethnic affairs called the Committee on Ethnic Minorities Affairs.

Vietnamese citizens of ethnic minorities also enjoy equal political rights and status, which are ensured by the laws. In other words, they have the equal right to participate in the political system, in the management of the State and the society, and stand for elections to the National Assembly and People’s Council as defined in Articles 27 and 28 of the 2013 Constitution. The percentage of ethnic minorities participating in the political apparatus has, in fact, increased in recent years. Facts show that the proportion of ethnic minority deputies to the National Assembly is always higher than the ratio of all ethnic minorities in the country’s population. In the last four tenures of the National Assembly, the percentage of ethnic minority deputies ranged between 15.6% - 17.2%, higher than the ratio of 14.35% of the ethnic minority population in the country’s total population. Ethnic minority people who are members of the People’s Council in the 2011 – 2016 tenure at the provincial, district and commune levels were 18%, 20% and 22.5% respectively.

Varied development assistance for ethnic minorities

The State of Vietnam places high priority on implementing policies for socio-economic development in ethnic minority areas in order to improve their material and spiritual life. The State also supports them in exercising their rights to equality and to gradually close the development gaps among various ethnicities so that they can attain the general level of development as of the rest of the country. In recent years, the State had promulgated 187 legal documents, including 44 Decrees of the Government, 6 Decisions of the Prime Minister on policies concerning regional socio-economic development, 97 decisions of the Prime Minister on sectorial socio-economic development (production, education, public health,culture).

Notably, many of these programs include the Government Action Program 122 on the work relating to ethnicities; the Resolution 30a/2008/NQ-CP of the Government on sustainable poverty reduction; Program 135 (Phase 2) on the socio-economic development in extremely difficult communes in ethnic minority and mountainous areas; the policies and programs on prioritizing investment into infrastructure development, allocation of lands to facilitate production and living standard of poor ethnic minorities (Decision 134); reduction of agriculture tax and goods circulation tax, provision of capital to enterprises, and subsidies to meet the basic needs of ethnic people such as edible salt, medicines, fertilizers, notebooks; policies on forest development and protection of living environment in the mountainous regions (Program 327); policies on housing support for poor households (Decision 167/2008/QĐ-TTg of the Prime Minister); policies on prioritized education, training, and recruitment for ethnic minorities, policies on education universalization, expanding boarding schools, giving priority to enrolling ethnic minority students in universities or vocational schools; upgrading public health centers to provide free medical treatment to needy ethnic people; assisting ethnic people to access to cultural activities and information. In fact, these programs have left positive changes in localities, home to ethnic minorities, such as North-Western region, Central Highlands and Southern part of Southern Vietnam.

The realization of the ethnic policy of the State of Vietnam has brought about significant achievements, creating conditions for better assurance of the rights of ethnic people. The socio-economic situation in ethnic minority and mountainous areas has been tangibly improved. Since 2007, 118,530 poor households of ethnic people have been provided with credits, 33,969 households have been assisted in production expansion, 80,218 households have been supported to expand the animal husbandry scale and 4,343 households have been helped to shift to services provision. The total number of poor households among ethnic minorities is 1,422,261, accounting for 5.9% of the total ethnic minority households in the country. 

The quality of life of the ethnic people has gradually improved. In the health sector, 100% of the communes have public health centers and medical staff, 100% of the district have district healthcare centers with medical doctors; the percentage of under-five malnourished children has reduced to under 25%. Various policies on free medical check and treatment, health insurance for the ethnic people in areas facing difficulties have been implemented. Certain diseases that were once common in ethnic minority and mountainous areas such as malaria, goiter, TB, leprosy, etc. have been prevented or eradicated. Remarkable progress has also been seen in the protection and care for mothers and children, and control of malnutrition. As a result of carrying out Decision 197/2007/QD-TTg which amended and supplemented the Decision 134/2004/QD-TTg, 373,400 ethnic minority households received housing support, 71,713 households received land support, 83,563 households received production land support, 214,466 households had access to clean water and 5,573 water supply projects were implemented in various hamlets and communes.

Cultural supports for ethnic minorities

The Party and State of Vietnam have always taken due care of education and training for ethnic minority people; and in fact, education and training in ethnic minority areas have also made important achievements. Schools at all levels have been expanded and developed. Since 2012, 100% of communes have met the target of primary education universalization and a number of communes have reached the target of secondary education universalization. The enrollment of school-age children at primary education level throughout the country is about 98%, among which 95% ethnic children can go to school. All provinces with large number of ethnic minorities living have vocational schools, colleges or training schools in the fields of agriculture, economic management, finance, education or medicine. To promote education and training for ethnic people, the State of Vietnam has exerted great efforts to develop boarding schools, semi-boarding schools, pre-university schools for ethnic minorities.

Ethnic minority students at all levels of Vietnam’s education and training system do not have to pay tuition fees and are even enjoying preferential treatment. At the primary education level, ethnic minority students are supported by both Central and local governments with monthly allowances. When they study at the secondary education level, they can go to boarding schools, and again receive supports from the authorities. They also get priorities at university entrance exams, during their study and at graduation exams. In short, ethnic minority students are provided the best conditions by the Party and State to study at all education and training levels.

Preservation of spoken and written languages for ethnic minorities is a priority in the education policy of the State of Vietnam. Article 5 of the 2013 Constitution reads: “Ethnicities have their rights to speak and write their own languages, to conserve their own cultural identities, to promote their customs and practices, traditions and good cultural features.” The Government of Vietnam issued Decree No. 82/2010/ND-CP on teaching and learning spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities in general education facilities and continuous learning centers. The Ministry of Education and Training has been working with UNICEF to implement a pilot program on bilingual education based on mother tongues in 3 provinces of Lao Cai, TraVinh, and Gia Lai with initial encouraging outcomes.

The State of Vietnam pursues a policy to develop a unified and diverse culture in communities of Vietnamese ethnicities, and to preserve and promote traditional cultural identity of all ethnic groups. Cultural activities of ethnic minorities are combined between traditional and modern cultures given the trends of integration and development. Ethnic people in all regions are entitled to engage in cultural activities imbued with their ethnic identity. The cultural and spiritual life of ethnic minorities in recent years has been significantly improved, and their cultural enjoyment has been enhanced. Many cultural values of ethnic minorities are preserved, promoted and recognized as the world cultural heritages, such as the "Space of Gong Culture in the Central Highlands", the "My Son Sanctuary," and the “Dong Van Karst Plateau".

The Voice of Vietnam and Vietnam Television have constantly increased the air time and expanded the coverage throughout the country to reach rural, remote and mountainous areas. Over 90% of ethnic households can listen to the Voice of Vietnam and over 80% can watch Vietnam Television’s channels. The Vietnam Television, Voice of Vietnam and provincial radios and television stations are now broadcasting in 26 languages of ethnic minorities.

In conclusion, Vietnam has completed its legal framework on equal rights among ethnicities and in the everyday reality, it has effectively been investing in residential areas of ethnic minorities, providing both supports and favorable conditions for ethnic minorities to improve their lives while preserving their own cultural identities.

Translated by Thu Nguyen