Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, 67, is a native of Nakorn Sri Thammarat, Southern Thailand. He received his primary and secondary education in his home province.
He was awarded the American Field Service (AFS) exchange scholarship and was a high school exchange student in Minnesota, USA, in 1967-1968. He returned to Bangkok, Thailand and attended Thammasat University for 2 years before winning a scholarship from Claremont Men's College (now Claremont McKenna College) Claremont, California, to complete his B.A. in Political Science (cum laude) in 1972. He then went on to Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A., where he received his M.A. and Ph.D. in 1974 and 1982 respectively, in the field of Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies.
His entire Harvard career was supported by the Winston S. Churchill Association, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation Fellowships. He also spent a year and a half studying Arabic and conducting his research at the American University in Cairo, 1975-1977, while concurrently a fellow at the Higher Council for Islamic Research, Cairo, Egypt. He worked as a columnist for the Nation and the Bangkok Post, the two leading English daily newspapers in Bangkok, from 1975-1992.
Dr. Surin taught at the Faculty of Political Science at Thammasat University from 1978-1983 and 1984-1986. He also served as an assistant to the Deputy Dean for Academic Affairs during the same period.
Dr. Surin joined the American Political Science Association's Congressional Fellowship Program in 1983-1984, when he interned in the Congressional Office of the late US Representative Geraldine A. Ferraro (D-New York), who later became the Vice Presidential Candidate for the Democrat Party in 1984, and worked for the Senate Republican Conference in the later half of 1984. He taught Southeast Asian Affairs at the American University in Washington, D.C. during that same year.
He returned to Thailand in 1984 to assume a teaching position at Thammasat and ran for a Parliamentary seat from Nakorn Sri Thammarat, his home town two years later. He had been returned to Parliament 8 times since 1986. As an MP, he was appointed Secretary to the Speaker of the House of Representatives (H.E. Chuan Leekpai), Secretary to Deputy Minister of Interior, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs during 1992-1995, and Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1997 to 2001. He served as Chair of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting and the Chair of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 1999-2000. In September 1999, while the ASEAN Chair, he led the efforts to get Southeast Asian governments to help restore law and order, and that joint undertaking, with the support of the United Nations and the international community, brought about peace and security in East Timor.
Upon leaving the foreign affairs portfolio in mid-2001, Dr. Surin was appointed a member of the Commission on Human Security of the United Nations until 2003. He also served as an advisor to the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty from 1999-2001. In 2002, he concurrently served on the ILO's World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization until 2004. He was an advisor to the Leaders Project, Washington, D.C., a conference arm of the Cohen Group of former US Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen. He served on the International Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He is currently on the Advisory Board of the UN Human Security Trust Fund, the Advisory Board of the International Crisis Group (ICG), an International Academic Advisor of the Centre for Islamic Studies, Oxford University, and an advisor to the Leaders Project, a conference arm of the Cohen Group of former US Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen.
Between 2002-2004, Dr. Surin was also a member of the "Wise Men Group" under the auspices of the Henri Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HDC) in Geneva, advising the peace negotiations between the Acehnese Independence Movement (GAM) and the Government of the Republic of Indonesia. He served as a member of the Islamic Development Bank's 1440 A.H. (2020) Vision Commission under the leadership of Tun Dr. Muhammad Mahathir, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, in June 2005.
Dr. Surin was a Deputy Leader of the Democrat Party, Thailand. He also served on the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC), charged with bringing peace and security back to Thailand's deep South. He was appointed Member of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) before assuming his post as the Secretary General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) from 1 January 2008 until 31 December 2012. During that period he was tasked to implement the ASEAN Charter and prepare the region to enter into the ASEAN Community in 2015.
Two of his most recognized accomplishments were spearheading the Asian countries to help restore law and order in East Timor during the violent uprising in the aftermath of the Referendum in August 1999, and leading the ASEAN Member States and the United Nations and other international institutions such as the World Bank, ADB and various other International NGOs to enter Myanmar to rescue that country from the catastrophe of Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 and remained there until the mission was accomplished in December 2010.
Dr. Surin has been conferred 13 honorary doctorate degrees, including one from University of Bristol (UK), Claremont McKenna College, the National University of Malaya (UKM) University Purta Malaysia (UPM) and University of Malaya (UM).
After his term as Secretary General of ASEAN, Dr. Surin has been appointed Professor Emeritus at Thammasat University and also an Honorary Advisor and Distinguished Visiting Fellow at King Prajadhipok Institute, an academic affiliation of the Thai Parliament. Moreover, he has been also served as the Chairman of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), a Board of Advisors of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, the Advisory council of the International Humanitarian City (IHC) under the leadership of Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum.
He is concurrently a Visiting Professor, an Adjunct Professor and a Visiting Fellow at the Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, Tokyo, University of Nara, Japan and University of Malaya, University of Brunei, and also a Chairman of the Future Innovative Thailand Institute. He has the title "Tan Sri" from the Royal Palace of Malaysia, in the occasion of the 14th Yang di-Pertuan Agong's birthday. Moreover, Dr. Surin has been nominated to be a Special Envoy for Thailand Candidature for UNSC 2017-2018.
Dr. Surin Pitsuwan is now engaged in the promotion of regional integration in East Asia, educational and political reform efforts in Thailand and a frequent speaker at various 30 international conferences.