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He Did It His Own Way
Tommy Koh Reader: Favorite Essays And Lectures – Tommy Koh
* World Scientific Publication, 529 pages, non-fiction
A small black and white portrait on the cover of the Tommy Koh Reader offers a partial view of the author’s face.
The collection of Professor Tommy Koh’s words and writings is also a partial view of one of Singapore’s most prolific, successful and eloquent children. It would be difficult to give a full picture of his influence on academia, diplomacy, law, the arts, property and the community in Singapore, but this selection covers many of the reasons he has come up with.
Koh and other members of the University’s Social Security Association “are very passionate about our quest to build a more democratic, just and equal world,” he wrote. As a student, he “hopes that we will see a model of the economy which will achieve growth with equity”.
He is also voicing the same concerns. In 2010, he noted that Singapore’s founding fathers had a vision of a country like an olive tree, with a large middle class and few people at the top and bottom, and warned, “We must not let olives become pears” .
After graduation, Koh studied law with former prime minister David Marshall and then studied at the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law. But in 1968 he was asked to represent the newly independent country as Ambassador and Ambassador to the United Nations. Although he became dean of the Faculty of Law (1971-1974), he spent most of his professional life with the Singapore Foreign Ministry.
An “active participant” in diplomatic diplomacy for 41 years, Koh proved to be one of the strongest negotiators. He described his strategy on building the program as Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the UN Conference on Environment and Development, the World Conference in 1991 and 1992: “My advice is to maintain pressure on the delegates until they agree to compromise. At about 4:30 in the morning, the representatives were so tired that they asked me to make a deal, I asked them to take some rest, then with the help of about a dozen of his colleagues representing different groups of supporters, they succeeded in making the contract, and I accepted my plan. .”
Koh combined his legal and diplomatic skills as President of the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea (1981-1982), which drafted “a law for the seas”. The 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea “has survived the test of time”, he wrote, and “brought rule of law, certainty and peace to the seas and oceans of the world. It is often considered one of the most important contributions of the UN to the rule of law in global.”
“The son of a book-loving father and an art-loving mother”, Koh was the founding chairman of the National Arts Council (1991) and in 1992, chaired Singapore’s Censorship Review Board.
“When we try to discredit the theater forum and The Special Stage”, he wrote to Singapore’s The Straits Times newspaper to defend them. But he failed “to protect the artist Josef Ng from the wrath of the law enforcement agencies”.
That was not the only time Koh criticized government policies. He has been part of the establishment, but he has also been active in civil society.
“Non-governmental organizations by their very nature must be destroyed,” he told Asiaweek magazine in 1996. “But we need the right kind of harm.”
For example, he cited “Saving the trees of the Peirce Basin from being cut down to make way for a golf course” as one of Singapore’s most important environmental achievements. Although not mentioned in the book, Koh can take credit for that because he was the chairman of the Nature Society (Singapore), which led Singapore’s massive protest campaign in 1992 – long before the start of social media.
NSS members first compiled an 80-page report about biodiversity in the catchment area and the impact the proposed golf course would have on water quality and the environment. When the Government did not respond, they organized a campaign that received around 17,000 signatures. The idea was eventually shelved.
This collection will appeal to many Malaysians and Singaporeans but more readers may have to go online to check out the cryptic acronyms and references. An index and more footnotes in later editions would be helpful.
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