Sir Shridath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal QC served as Commonwealth Secretary-General for 15 years, from 1975 to 1990.
He was the second Commonwealth Secretary-General, and the first to come from a developing country.
He was born on 3 October 1928 in New Amsterdam, Guyana. After his early education in Guyana, he read law in London. He graduated with an LLB (Hons) and gained an LLM with distinction from King’s College, University of London. He was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn, where he was the Arden and Atkin Prizeman in 1952. He later spent a year at the Harvard Law School on a Guggenheim Fellowship.
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.
He became the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth in June 1975, on unanimous election by the Heads of its member governments, and was subsequently re-elected on two occasions - first at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, in August 1979, and again at the 1983 summit in New Delhi, India.
The period of Mr Ramphal’s stewardship saw Commonwealth membership grow from 34 countries in mid-1975 to 49 in 1990, nearly one-third of the international community of nations embracing a quarter of the world’s population.
This coincided with a parallel growth in Commonwealth concern with global issues of peace and security and of political, economic and social justice - prominently the need to reduce tension and reverse the arms race, the particular struggle for freedom and dignity in Southern Africa, and the compulsion to combat poverty and human suffering worldwide.
The 1977 Gleneagles Agreement isolating apartheid South Africa from international sport and the Commonwealth contribution to Zimbabwe’s emergence to democratic independence in 1980 were high watermarks of his first period of office.
He 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.