Open Letter

To the United States Senate


On October 3rd, 2001, the U.S. Senate ratified the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) while tabling the vote on the Vietnam Human Rights bill which had been overwhelmingly passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. The BTA in its full implementation will help Vietnam sustain its market economy, accelerate the integration of the Vietnamese economy into global economy, and especially create opportunity for every Vietnamese to enjoy free enterprise and to improve his or her lives, both spiritually and materially.

Today, free trade is essential to building a free society. However, for the BTA to be effectively implemented and develop to its full potential, basic human rights must be guaranteed for every and all Vietnamese. These rights include, among others, equal rights, freedom to competition, freedom to exchange of information and ideas, freedom to movement and residency, freedom to employment in and outside of one's country, and labor rights. The environment in Vietnam must also be protected so that economic development will not be done at the expenses of public health and depletion of natural resources. Moreover, Vietnamese citizens must be accorded the rights to criticize, nominate, and remove both local and national government officials. These civil rights are essential to prevent corruption and abuse of power as well as to ensure transparency in government, which is instrumental to developing a sustainable and healthy economy. Without these rights free trade would only benefit a privileged few in power; consequently, the gap between the haves and haves-not is likely to expand, and widespread injustices and developmental abnormalities may end up in social chaos.

Besides, the persistent degradation in Vietnam demands swift and all-out changes on both economic and political fronts. In an era when the world community comes together and unparalleled scientific and technological advances abound in the U.S. and across the globe, a synergy of economic, cultural and political development is timely and highly feasible. More importantly, the U.S., a staunch advocate for the respect of human rights and civil rights, certainly does not want to be wrongly perceived as promoting free trade purely for its financial and material gains.

I regret that the U.S. Senate, having ratified the BTA without taking a vote on the Vietnam Human Rights bill, has sent a wrong political message to the Hanoi leaders who have so far carried out only economic, and not political, reforms. Market economy, cultural freedom, and democracy are today’s three world trends, which are irreversible and inseparable. Economic and financial aid from the U.S. and the world would only help Vietnam to achieve stable and sustainable development if the Vietnamese people were allowed to live in a free society run by a government who is held accountable to the people and respects basic human and civil rights. On September 6, that the Vietnam Human Rights bill (HR 2833) was passed almost unanimously, is an obvious intent of the U.S. House of Representatives to promote a free society in Vietnam. The passage of the bill has not hindered the passage of the BTA; yet it would increase the chance of success for the full implementation of the BTA. The Vietnam Human Rights bill, together with the BTA, would contribute effectively to the comprehensive, sustainable, and equitable development of Vietnam.

I, therefore, urge the U.S. Senate to swiftly pass the Vietnam Human Rights bill to wide-open the doors for the Vietnamese people to enjoy a peaceful, free and prosperous life like all other peoples in the world. Your long-awaited and forward-looking actions will be highly appreciated by your Vietnamese-American constituents.


October 9, 2001

Doan Viet Hoat, Ph.D.

Chairman, International Institute for Vietnam

Visiting Scholar, Columbus School of Law, CUA

Vietnamese Prisoner of Conscience, AI (1982-1998)

Human Rights Watch Freedom Award (1994

RFK Memorial Human Rights Award (1995)

Golden Pen Award, WAN (1998)

Press Freedom Hero, IPI (2000)

Honorary Member, PEN America, Canada, Poland, France, Swiss.