Tommy Koh receives inaugural Indonesia award for international law contributions

Professor Tommy Koh gives his speeh after receiving the inaugural Mochtar Kusumaatmadja Award.
Professor Tommy Koh gives his speeh after receiving the inaugural Mochtar Kusumaatmadja Award.ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA

BANDUNG, WEST JAVA - Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large, Professor Tommy Koh, on Saturday (Oct 14) received the inaugural Mochtar Kusumaatmadja Award, an accolade that acknowledges prominent academics and practitioners, who have contributed significantly in the field of international law.

The award, named after Indonesia's former Law and Foreign Affairs Minister, is a joint initiative of the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Padjadjaran University, and aims to recognise the international or national achievements of recipients.

Prof Koh, 79, was presented the award by Indonesia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Dr. H. Abdurrahman Mohammad Fachir, and judges, including former foreign affairs minister Hassan Wirajuda and Hasjim Djalal, former Indonesian ambassador to Canada, Germany and the UN, at a ceremony held in Gedung Merdeka, a historical art-deco building in Bandung, West Java.

Besides being an ambassador-at-large at Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he also served as president of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea in 1981 and 1982, and is currently the chairman of the board of governors of the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore.

Prof Koh was also one of the leading figures who represented Singapore in the territorial dispute between Singapore and Malaysia, over two maritime features known as Middle Rocks and South Ledge, near Pedra Branca. The Singapore side included former deputy prime minister and law minister S. Jayakumar and former chief justice Chan Sek Keong.

In his speech at the ceremony, Dr Fachir paid tribute to Prof Koh for playing a "pivotal role" in negotiations on United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, or Unclos.

Prof Koh said he was proud to be the first recipient of the Mochtar Kusumaatmadja Award and was humbled and honoured that his old friend, Professor Mochtar, who is now 88, was at the ceremony.

"I'm just so happy to see Pak Mochtar, because he has not been well and I asked many times to see him in Bogor, but the family said he was not well enough, so I'm happy that he made the effort to come from Bogor," said Prof Koh.

Prof Mochtar was Indonesia's Law and Human Rights Minister from 1973 to 1978, and he later replaced Mr Adam Malik as Foreign Minister in 1978, after the latter became Vice-President.

During his tenure in Cabinet, Prof Mochtar was heavily involved in several historical milestones, including the 1972 treaty that helped delineate the Australia-Indonesia border. Prof Mochtar designed a vision of a territory unity of Indonesia that later became the impetus of the archipelagic state, which was then stipulated in a chapter in the Unclos that applies to all archipelagic states across the world.

The Mochtar Kusumaatmadja Award is one of many accolades bestowed upon Prof Koh, who has also been previously recognised for his contributions to environmental diplomacy.

When asked if he had any messages for the youth of Singapore and Indonesia, Prof Koh said he would like to remind them that the Rule of Law is very important as it creates a level playing field between small countries and big countries.

"We smaller countries must insist that big countries abide by international law, that they must settle their dispute peacefully in accordance to the laws."

And on being bestowed yet another award, Prof Koh said: "It's a story in my life, I often got awards that I don't deserve and this is another one."