11 October 2021

Emeritus Professor Recounts Her Time at the Graduate Institute

Koh Kheng Lian earned her diploma from the Graduate Institute in 1980. She is currently Emeritus Professor at the National University of Singapore's Faculty of Law. Most recently, she was named the Environmental Lawyer of the Year (ASEAN) for 2020 by the Asian Research Institute for Environmental Law (ARIEL).

I graduated with an LL.B. from the National University of Malaya in Singapore and subsequently obtained an LL.M. and PhD.

In 1963, I joined the academic staff of the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore, and remained there until my retirement, except for a period from 1980-1986 when I served as a legal officer in the secretariat of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), Vienna. 

Although my area of expertise was not part of the subjects offered at, what was then the Hautes Etudes Internationales (HEI), it was my firm belief that a person ought to widen the horizon of his/her education.

So, during my sabbatical leave in 1972, I decided to pursue my degree in Geneva.

It was an exciting year and I took courses in international economics and Law of the Sea as well as other subjects.

My research thesis, Straits in International Navigation: Contemporary Issue, was published by Oceana Publications in 1982 and it was well-received. My thesis focused on the then timely controversy of the Straits of Malacca during the Law of the Sea Conference. 

The module on the Law of the Sea has now proven to be very useful as background for my current research as a member of the Board of Governors of the International Council of Environmental Law (ICEL).

My career path spanned over five decades.  

Since 1990, I have focused on environmental law and was the Director of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law, at the National University of Singapore.

I also held positions as a member of the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law, and served as its Regional Vice-Chair for South and East Asia and member of its Steering Committee from 1996-2004.

I am currently on the Board of Governors of the International Council of Environmental Law.

I have over 250 publications and conference papers in a variety of areas, particularly in environmental law, and have presented papers at conferences all over the world.  

I was the 2012 laureate of the Elizabeth Haub Prize for Environmental Law, awarded by the University of Stockholm and the International Council of Environmental Law.

I was also inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame (SWHF) for my work as a “pioneer in the development of environmental law” in the region.

My studies at the Institute not only widened my educational horizon but also gave me an opportunity to interact with students from other parts of the world. This is invaluable in a now globalised and interconnected world. 

I will end with a word to the students of the Graduate Institute: consider yourselves very fortunate to be at the Graduate Institute and make full use of the opportunity to do your best. Make a difference to the world through humanity, and bring out the best in others – that they may see your goodness, kindness and generosity. 

This article was originally published in Globe, the Institute Review

Photo credit: Koh Kheng Lian