Sichan Siv

Sichan Siv was nominated by President George W. Bush in October 2001 and unanimously confirmed by the Senate as the 28th Ambassador to the United Nations Economic and Social Council. From 2001 to 2006, he concurrently represented the United States at the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council. In June 2005, Ambassador Siv addressed the 60th anniversary of the U.N. in San Francisco, following a tradition set by Presidents Truman in 1945, Eisenhower in 1955, Johnson in 1965, Secretary of State Schultz in 1985, and Clinton in 1995.

Siv is in demand as a speaker at Wall Street investment firms, corporate groups (especially those looking to develop their business in Asia), university commencements and conferences around the country. His life story and the history, culture, and politics of Southeast Asia appeal to all interested in U.S.–Asia relations, including the 13 million Asian-Americans who now make up the fastest-growing ethnic minority in the United States. In addition to English and Khmer, Siv speaks French, Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. At every speech, audience members are profoundly moved by Siv’s inspirational life story. His memoir, Golden Bones: An Extraordinary Journey from Hell in Cambodia to the White House (Harper), tells Siv’s amazing journey from certain death halfway around the world in Cambodia, to the corridors of power in Washington, D.C.

From 1989 to 1993, during the administration of the 41st president, George Bush, he served at the White House as deputy assistant to the president for public liaison and at the State Department as deputy assistant secretary for South Asian affairs. Ambassador Siv holds a master of international affairs from Columbia University. A native of Cambodia, he escaped forced labor camps in 1976 and was resettled as a refugee in Wallingford, Connecticut.

In 1975 when the U.S. military presence in Southeast Asia ended, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia and turned it into a land of blood and tears. They began a vicious genocide to transform the once peaceful nation into a primitive agrarian society.They imprisoned, enslaved, and murdered those they considered “enemies,” resulting in the harrowing “killing fields”—rice paddies where the harvest yielded nothing but millions of skulls.

Siv—a target since he was a university graduate and U.S. agency employee—was told by his mother to run, and “Never give up hope!”Throwing away his glasses (only intellectuals wore them), he began his odyssey across Cambodia.Captured and put to work in slave labor camps, Siv knew it was only a matter of time before he would be worked to death—or killed.He made a daring escape from a logging truck and a desperate flight for freedom through the jungle. He was severely wounded in a pungi pit but made it to Thailand, where he was briefly jailed. He taught English in a refugeecamp and was ordained a Buddhist monk.

Upon his arrival in America in the summer of 1976, Siv kept on striving, working as an apple picker and burger flipper in Connecticut and as cab driver in New York. He later won a full graduate scholarship to Columbia. In 1988 his perseverance was noticed while working on the presidential campaign of George H. W. Bush, and he was offered a high level job in the White House. Siv returned with great trepidation to Cambodia in 1992 as a senior representative of the U.S. government.The visit was emotionally overwhelming. In 2001 President George W. Bush nominated Siv as a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

From his first July 4th parade in Vermont in 1976, to being grandmaster at a 2006 Independence Day rodeo in Texas, Siv has come a long way. Golden Bones is a timeless and universal story of love, dreams, hope, and freedom. He is married to the former Martha Pattillo of Pampa, Texas. They live in San Antonio.

Topics

  • Golden Bones: An Extraordinary Journey from Hell in Cambodia to the White House
  • How to Do Business in Asia
  • History, Culture, and Politics of Southeast Asia
  • U.S.–Asian Relations
  • U.S.-U.N. Relations
  • Leadership and Motivation
  • Crossing Cultural Barriers
Rachel Lomax

Former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England