Sir Shridath Surendranath "Sonny" Ramphal, GCMG, AC, ONZ, OE, OM, OCC, QC Former Commonwealth Secretary-General
Sir Shridath Ramphal (born 1928), is a Guyanese barrister, public servant, and internationalist, Chancellor Emeritus of the University of the West Indies, regional statesman, and former Commonwealth Secretary-General. He was Chair of the West lndian Commission whose report, provided to Caribbean Heads of Government in 1992, made detailed recommendations for the future of the region. In 1991, he was a Special Advisor to the Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). His book, Our Country, the Planet: Forging a Partnership for Survival was written for the conference and has been published in several languages. Sir Shridath Ramphal was Chancellor of the University of Guyana from 1990 to 1992.
Early life and education
He was born on 3 October 1928 in New Amsterdam, British Guiana (now Guyana), to an Indo-Guyanese family.
Ramphal attended a private school founded by his father in the capital city, Georgetown. He was also educated at the Modern Educational Institute, which also was run by his father. He completed his secondary education at Queen’s College, a government school in Georgetown.
In 1947 he began his legal training at King’s College, London, and was called to the bar from Gray’s Inn in 1951. As a pupil in chambers, he worked with a distinguished barrister and politician, Dingle Foot, who at the time was chairman of the Liberal Party. He continued his studies for a Master’s degree in law and did part-time work in the Legal Section of the Colonial Office to support himself. He returned to British Guiana in 1953.
His first appointment was with the Legal Department of British Guiana from 1953-58. He then joined the Federal Government of the West Indies as Legal Draftsman (1958-59), returned to British Guiana to be Solicitor-General (1959-61) and went back to the Federation as Assistant Attorney-General (1961-62). When the Federation broke up, he practised law as a barrister in Jamaica.
He returned home at the invitation of Prime Minister Forbes Burnham to become Attorney-General and draft Guyana’s independence constitution of 1966. The following year he was asked to take on, in addition, the post of Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. In 1972 he became Minister of Foreign Affairs, and in 1973 was appointed Minister of Justice as well.
At the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1975, Ramphal was unanimously appointed the Commonwealth’s second secretary-general, the first from the Third World. Articulate, dynamic, and self-confident, he was a strong advocate of the interests of the Third World, the need for a new international economic order, and the need to end apartheid in South Africa. Soon after his appointment he challenged a statement by Henry Kissinger that the international economic system had worked well and argued that the developing countries had not been well served by it. and stressed the importance of increased North-South cooperation.
Subsequently re- elected on two occasions Sir Shridath served as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth for 15 years. During the period of his stewardship, membership of the Commonwealth grew from 34 countries in mid- 1975 to 49 in 1990. The Commonwealth then represented almost one-third of the international community of nations and a quarter of the world’s population.
Sir Shridath played a leading part in the work of the Brandt Independent Commission on International Development Issues, the Palme Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues, the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues, and the World Commission on Environment and Development which issued its report, Our Common Future, in April 1987.
In July 1987, he accepted the invitation of Julius Nyerere to join the newly formed South Commission charged with examining the major problems facing the countries of the Third World and proposing practical measures of co-operation to resolve them.
From 1984 to 1986 he was Chairman of the United Nations Committee on Development Planning.
He was succeeded as Commonwealth Secretary-General by Chief Emeka Anyaoku of Nigeria.
After the end of his term as secretary-general of the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1990, Sir Shridath was Chair of the West lndian Commission whose report, provided to Caribbean Heads of Government in 1992, made detailed recommendations for the future of the region. In 1991, he was a Special Advisor to the Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). His book, Our Country, the Planet: Forging a Partnership for Survival was written for the conference and has been published in several languages.
He worked as the Chancellor of the University of Warwick from 1989 to 2002, the University of the West Indies until 2003 and also served as Chancellor of the University of Guyana.
In addition to innumerable monographs, Sir Shridath has several books to his credit, which include among others, Our Country, The Planet: Forging A Partnership For Survival (1992); and Inseparable Humanity: An Anthology of Reflections of Shridath Ramphal (1988).
He married Lois Winifred Ramphal (née King) in 1951, a nurse whom he met while he was a student in London. They have four children: two daughters, Susan and Amanda and two sons, Ian and Mark.
Honours and awards
Sir Shridath has received many accolades, including the conferral of honorary doctorates from many universities all over the world; and and honours from several national governments and international organisations.
He was twice be-knighted – Knight Bachelor in 1970 and Knight Grand Cross of St. Michael and St. George, in 1990,
On 6 February 1990, Ramphal was the nineteenth appointee to The Order of New Zealand, New Zealand's highest civil honour.
Sir Shridath received the honour of membership of the Order of the Caribbean Community in the first conferment of 1992.
In May 2006 Ramphal was appointed an Honorary Fellow of Royal Society of Arts. He is a Vice-President of the Royal Commonwealth Society. The Ramphal Building at the University of Warwick was named in his honour.
On 20 October 2011, Sir Shridath received the UWI Chancellor's Medal, a special award of distinction made by the UWI Chancellor to a person who has made a substantial and lasting contribution to the welfare and development of the University of the West Indies, or has enabled the University to access significant resources for the achievement of its mission of unlocking the region's potential through delivering quality higher education through teaching, outreach, service and research.
The Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law, Policy & Services is located at The University of the West Indies (Barbados) that aims to be the functional mechanism within the Caribbean region, building trade and trade-related legal, institutional and negotiating capacity, with a focus on increasing the regions competitiveness in the international trading arena.
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