Remembering Jenni Viitala - An Appreciation by the UNODC Viet Nam Country Office Staff Members


20 October 2009 - WEBMASTER'S NOTE: When designing the new Viet Nam web page we ran a check on which stories had the greatest number of hits. We were extremely moved to learn that this story about Jenni was the most visited story since UNODC re-launched its website earlier in the year. This, we believe, is a testament to how much everyone cared about Jenni and the sense of solidarity we all felt in this great tragedy.

It is with great sadness and grief that UNODC Viet Nam Country Office announces the passing away of our dear colleague and friend Jenni Viitala. She left us on Saturday the 10th of October 2009.

As many in the UN family know, Jenni was an Associate Expert and Programme Officer for UNODC Viet Nam. She developed and coordinated the project on building capacity of law enforcement and justice sectors to prevent and respond to domestic violence in Viet Nam. She also backstopped a project on comprehensive drug prevention through communications and community mobilization.

Jenni arrived in Viet Nam almost three years ago already strongly committed to gender issues. In particular, she was committed to ending gender-based violence and domestic violence. Her major concern had always been the protection and security of the victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence is still often seen as a private matter in Viet Nam and implementing the recently adopted Law on Prevention and Control of Domestic Violence in practice remains a major challenge.

Jenni's contribution to plan and implement anti-domestic violence activities for different Vietnamese government partners was ground-braking and her work has paved the way towards better services and protection of victims of domestic violence. Her innovative project activities, including the development of a training manual with a unique DVD for the justice and law enforcement officials as well as conducting the very first survey of the quality of police and justice services for victims of domestic violence, have been of such success that they are planned to be duplicated in other countries.

Jenni was also a leading force in the One UN Initiative in Viet Nam, having been a very active member of the Programme Coordination Group on Gender, Governance and Protection. In addition to this, she co-chaired the Subgroup on Gender-Based Violence since July 2009, taking her responsibilities very seriously and making sure commitments would be honored and necessary actions taken.

Jenni often told us that an international career in the development sector was her long-term dream which became true but ended all too soon. She held a Masters in Political Science at Helsinki University and had studied in Hong Kong. Prior to her JPO assignment at UNODC Viet Nam in 2007, she had worked in South Africa, Laos and Indonesia.

Jenni was an inspiration to all those who knew her and who had the privilege to work with her. Her enthusiasm and dedication to contribute to the mandate of the United Nations to help the less privileged in this world as well as her kind, supportive and happy personality has much contributed to the well-being and well-functioning of our office team and will leave a big gap in our lives.

Speaking from all our hearts, we would like to add Eileen Skinnider's touching good-bye words: "I was so very fortunate to have worked with Jenni in Viet Nam. She had a generous and warm spirit for everyone she met. Her compassion and dedication to alleviating suffering of others and the kindness in her heart overflowed. I feel very blessed to have met Jenni in this lifetime". Eileen, a well-known legal expert on domestic violence issues from Canada, came to Viet Nam in late spring 2009 to develop the training manual on how to respond to domestic violence for law enforcement and justice sectors in Viet Nam together with Jenni.

The memorial service for Jenni was held on 18th of October 2009, at the Hanoi Hilton Hotel attended by her father Seppo Viitala, her partner Kukrit Prayong, her friends and colleagues. Also attending was General Vu Hung Vuong on behalf of the Vietnamese government and Gary Lewis, Regional Representative of the UNODC Regional Centre in Bangkok.