Read about 50 years of S'pore and the UN

New book gathers experiences of S'poreans who worked with the international body

Prof Tommy Koh and Ms Michelle Gyles-McDonnough at the launch of the book at the National Library yesterday.
Prof Tommy Koh and Ms Michelle Gyles-McDonnough at the launch of the book at the National Library yesterday.PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

For almost five years, retired judicial commissioner Amarjeet Singh listened to the horrific accounts of a European war.

As one of the judges at the world's first independent war crimes court located at The Hague in the Netherlands, he heard from war witnesses about the widespread shelling, killing and fear caused by former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic during the break-up of Yugoslavia.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, where Mr Singh was from 2001 to 2005, ultimately helped develop international criminal law and lay the foundation of the International Criminal Court.

Mr Singh's account of his stint is one of 45 essays found in a new book about Singapore's involvement in the United Nations in its 50 years as an independent nation.

Titled 50 Years Of Singapore And The United Nations, the book's essays are from diplomats and other professionals who had worked with the international body. It was edited by Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh, the Prime Minister's press secretary Chang Li Lin, and former Institute of Policy Studies administrative assistant manager Joanna Koh.

Speaking at its launch at the National Library yesterday, Professor Koh noted that the UN is often criticised for its inability to act decisively "in the face of horrendous conflict and enormous human suffering in Syria and elsewhere".

But he argued that the world was a better place because of the UN. "Without the UN, the rule of law will probably be replaced by the rule that might is right," he said. Also, "the UN helped to make the world a safer and more hospitable place for small countries" like Singapore.

Prof Koh also said Singapore and the UN have had a mutually beneficial relationship since the country's admission as a member shortly after its independence in 1965.

The book recounts the experiences of Singaporeans who took part in UN bodies like the World Trade Organisation and the Security Council.

One of them is a retired UN assistant secretary-general, Mr Andrew Toh, who wrote about distributing food aid in Ethiopia during a severe famine in 1985. He and a team stayed in mobile trailers while building the infrastructure from scratch to deliver grain and other food.

Ms Michelle Gyles-McDonnough, UN Development Programme resident representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, said the book had many valuable lessons for diplomats around the world.

The book, which is published by World Scientific, is sold at all major bookstores for $70 for the hardcover version and $36 for the paperback.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2015, with the headline 'Read about 50 years of S'pore and the UN'. Subscribe