Professor Tommy Koh

Former Rector Tembusu College National University of Singapore
Professor Faculty of Law National University of Singapore

Professor Tommy Koh was our former Rector of Tembusu College. He was also Ambassador-at-Large at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Chairman of the Centre for International Law of NUS; Special Advisor of the Institute of Policy Studies; and Chairman of the National Heritage Board. He was on secondment from the NUS Faculty of Law, where he was Dean from 1971 to 1974.

Prof Koh was Singapore's Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 1968 to 1971 (concurrently accredited as High Commissioner to Canada) and again from 1974 to 1984 (concurrently accredited as High Commissioner to Canada and Ambassador to Mexico). He was Ambassador to the United States of America from 1984 to 1990. Among his other diplomatic posts were: President of the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea (1980-1982); Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for, and the Main Committee of, the UN Conference on Environment and Development (The “Earth Summit”) (1990-1992), and Singapore’s Chief Negotiator for the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (2000-2003). Prof Koh was also a member of three WTO dispute panels, twice as Chairman. He had also served as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, on a peace mission, to Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1993.

Prof Koh was the founding Chairman of the National Arts Council (1991 to 1996), Director of the Institute of Policy Studies (1990-1997 and 2000-2004), and founding Executive Director of the Asia-Europe Foundation (1997-2000). He chairs three committees for the National University of Singapore relating to law, Asia research and environmental management.

Prof Koh received a First Class Honours degree in Law from the National University of Singapore, has a Masters degree in Law from Harvard University, and a post-graduate Diploma in Criminology from Cambridge University. He was conferred a full professorship in 1977. In 1984, Prof Koh was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws by Yale University and an honorary LLD from Monash University in 2002. He has also received awards from Columbia University, Stanford University, Georgetown University, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and Curtin University. He has taught at various universities in the United States and China.

Prof Koh is the recipient of many awards, prizes, and honours. For his contributions to environmental diplomacy, Prof Koh was recognised as a “Champion of the Earth” by the United Nations Environment Programme in 2006, and received the inaugural “President’s Award for the Environment” from President S R Nathan in the same year. He had earlier received the 1996 Elizabeth Haub Prize from the University of Brussels and the International Council on Environmental Law. For his contributions to the law of the sea, Prof Koh was a co-recipient of the Onassis Distinguished Scholar Award from the Rhodes Academy of Oceans Law and Policy in Rhodes, Greece. For his service to the nation, Prof Koh was awarded the Public Service Star in 1971, the Meritorious Service Medal in 1979, the Distinguished Service Order Award in 1990, and the Order of Nila Utama (First Class) in 2008. He has received other prestigious awards and honours from the governments of The Netherlands, Chile, Luxembourg, Finland, France, Spain, and the United States.

His publications include The United States and East Asia: Conflict and Co-operation (Singapore: Institute of Policy Studies & Times Academic Press, 1995); The Quest for World Order: Perspectives of a Pragmatic Idealist (Singapore: Institute of Policy Studies & Times Academic Press, 1998); Asia and Europe: Essays and Speeches (Singapore: Asia-Europe Foundation & World Scientific Publishing, 2000); Pedra Branca: The Road To The World Court, co-authored with Prof S Jayakumar (Singapore: NUS Press & Ministry of Foreign Affairs Diplomatic Academy, 2009). He co-edited The Little Red Dot: Reflections by Singapore’s Diplomats, Vol I & II, with Ms Chang Li-Lin (Singapore: Institute of Policy Studies & World Scientific Publishing, 2005 & 2009); and The Making of the ASEAN Charter, with Prof Walter Woon and Amb Rosario Manalo (Singapore: Institute of Policy Studies & World Scientific Publishing, 2009). He was chief editor of Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: National Heritage Board and Editions Didier Millet, 2006).

The Tembusu (Fagraea fragrans) is a large evergreen tree in the family Gentianaceae. It is native to Southeast Asia. Its trunk is dark brown, with deeply fissured bark, looking somewhat like a bittergourd. It grows in an irregular shape from 10 to 25m high. Its leaves are light green and oval in shape. Its yellowish flowers have a distinct fragrance and the fruits of the tree are bitter tasting red berries, which are eaten by birds and fruit bats.