Tommy Koh

Tommy Koh Thong Bee DUNU (First Class), DUBC, PJG, BBM (born 12 November 1937) is a Singaporean international lawyer, professor, diplomat, and author. He was also Singapore's former Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

Tommy Koh Thong Bee

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi handing over the Padma Shri Award to veteran Singaporean diplomat Tommy Koh, at Istana - Presidential Palace, in Singapore.JPG
Koh (centre) receiving the Padma Shri from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018 at The Istana with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also present
Born (1937-11-12) 12 November 1937 (age 83)
Diploma in Criminology
Alma materUniversity of Malaya
Harvard University
University of Cambridge
OccupationInternational lawyer, professor, and a diplomat
Known forFormer ambassador to the United Nations
Poh Siew Aing
(m. 1967)
ChildrenWei Koh (son)
Aun Koh (son)
Tommy Koh
Simplified Chinese许通美

Early life and educationEdit

Koh was born in Singapore on 12 November 1937. His father was from Tong'an, Fujian and his mother was from Shanghai. He graduated from Raffles Institution and Serangoon Secondary School and received a LL.B. (First Class Honours) degree from the University of Malaya in Singapore (now the National University of Singapore). He holds a LL.M. from Harvard University (where he was classmate with Ngiam Tong Dow[1]) and a post-graduate Diploma in Criminology from Cambridge University. He was conferred a full professorship in 1977. Koh was awarded an honorary LL.D. degrees from Yale University and Monash University. He has also received awards from Columbia University, Stanford University, Georgetown University, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts), and Curtin University.


Koh is an international law professor, action and Ambassador-at-Large for the Singaporean government. He presently serves as Special Adviser at the Institute of Policy Studies,[2] Chairman of the National Heritage Board, Chairman of the Governing Board of the Centre for International Law, and Rector of Tembusu College at the National University of Singapore. He is on secondment from the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law.[3]

Koh was President of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, 1980–1982. Lax and Sebenius present Koh and his efforts in getting the Convention passed, as an example of successful negotiating.[4] 1990 to 1992 he served as Chairman of the Main Committee of the UN Conference on Environment and Development, where he presided over the negotiations on Agenda 21. He has also served as Singapore's ambassador to the United Nations and the United States.

Koh was the first Executive Director of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), established in Singapore in 1997 by the countries of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).

On 9 August 2008, Koh was conferred with the Order of Nila Utama (First Class) by the Singaporean government for his outstanding contributions in the Singapore legislative team representing Singapore in the Pedra Branca dispute case with the Malaysian government.[5]

In 2014, Koh received the Great Negotiator Award from Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School for his multiple contributions to diplomacy, most notably his work as chief negotiator for the United States–Singapore Free Trade Agreement, his work around developing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, his important efforts in resolving territorial and humanitarian disputes in the Baltics and Asia, and his success in leading both the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea and the UN Conference on Environment and Development (also known as the Rio Earth Summit).

In September 2018, via a Facebook post, Tommy Koh encouraged the LGBT communities of Singapore to challenge the law 377A that prohibits same-sex intercourse.[6][7]

Koh is on the panel of mediators for Singapore International Mediation Centre.

Selected writingsEdit

  • Tommy Koh, A Constitution of the Oceans, UNCLOS December 1982, [1] accessed 20 May 2017
  • Tommy Koh, Five Years After Rio:Some Personal Reflections, UN Chronicle 1997, accessed at Essay 29 August 2006
  • Tommy T.B. Koh and Amitav Acharya (ed.), The Quest for World Order: Perspectives of a Pragmatic Idealist, Times Academic Press, Singapore, 1997 ISBN 981-210-108-X
  • Tommy Koh, Five Years After Rio:Some Personal Reflections, UN Chronicle 1997, accessed at Essay 29 August 2006
  • Tommy Koh (2013). The Tommy Koh Reader: Favourite Essays and Lectures. World Scientific, 2013. p. 640. doi:10.1142/8999. ISBN 978-981-4571-07-4.
  • Tommy Koh, Li Lin Chang and Joanna Koh (2015). 50 Years of Singapore and the United Nations. World Scientific, 2015. p. 384. doi:10.1142/9729. ISBN 978-981-4713-03-0.
  • Tommy Koh, Sharon Li-Lian Seah and Li Lin Chang (2017). 50 Years of ASEAN and Singapore. World Scientific, 2017. p. 444. doi:10.1142/10572. ISBN 9789813225121.
  • Tommy Koh and Li Lin Chang (2005). The Little Red Dot. World Scientific, 2005. p. 504. doi:10.1142/5893 (inactive 31 May 2021). ISBN 9789812564146.CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of May 2021 (link)
  • Koh, Tommy (2020). Fifty Secrets of Singapore's Success. Straits Times Press.[8]

Honours and awardsEdit


Personal lifeEdit

Tommy Koh is married to Dr Poh Siew Aing. They have two sons, Aun and Wei.[11]

See alsoEdit

  • Practical idealism
  • Koh, Buck Song (1996), Interview with Professor Tommy Koh in The Arts in Singapore, 1996, Singapore: National Arts Council and Accent Communications.


  1. ^ hermes (22 August 2020). "PM Lee, friends pay tribute to Ngiam Tong Dow". The Straits Times. Archived from the original on 24 August 2020. Retrieved 7 September 2020.
  2. ^ "". Archived from the original on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2010.
  3. ^ "Institute of Policy Studies, Tommy Koh biography". Archived from the original on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2010.
  4. ^ David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius, "Thinking Coalitionally: Party Arithmetic, Process Opportunism, and Strategic Sequencing," in H. Peyton Young, ed. Negotiation Analysis. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991), pp. 153–194.
  5. ^ "NDP awards". Straits Times. 8 September 2008.
  6. ^ hermesauto (7 September 2018). "Tommy Koh's Facebook comment reignites debate on Singapore's gay sex law". The Straits Times. Archived from the original on 7 May 2019. Retrieved 7 September 2020.
  7. ^ "Veteran diplomat Tommy Koh calls on S'pore's gay community to mount challenge against S377A". TODAYonline. Archived from the original on 8 September 2018. Retrieved 7 September 2020.
  8. ^ hermesauto (29 January 2020). "New book curated by Tommy Koh tells Singapore's recipe for success in 340 pages". The Straits Times. Archived from the original on 29 January 2020. Retrieved 7 September 2020.
  9. ^ Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "2009 Autumn Conferment of Decorations on Foreign Nationals," p. 2. Archived 16 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ [[Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and the Future of Diplomacy Project at Harvard Kennedy School (Cambridge, MA, USA)|Harvard Law School]], "The 2014 Great Negotiator Award Program" Archived 8 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ hermes (3 July 2016). "How an 'angry fat loser' became a fashion icon". The Straits Times. Archived from the original on 6 September 2020. Retrieved 7 September 2020.

External linksEdit