Tribute by Sir Shridath Ramphal to Mohamed Shahabuddeen

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The late Dr. Mohammed Shahabuddeen

MOHAMMED SHAHABUDDEEN, O.E., O.R, CCH

WITH the passing on Saturday of Dr Mohammed Shahabuddeen, the world has lost one of its most eminent jurists and Guyana a son of unmatched legal brilliance. He shone without seeking to, and was prolific in his works, seemingly without effort.

He was of my time – or I of his. I was Guyana’s solicitor-general when a senior lawyer, my friend John Carter, called and asked me if I knew the magistrate at Suddie; and if I didn’t, why was such talent confined to a country district – and as a magistrate? It was the first time I had heard his name. He came to see me the following week, and, in a sense, he never left.

Sir Shridath Ramphal

The young man who came to see me was truly remarkable. He had never been to a university, but had already earned his BA and LL.B externally, and was working on his Masters. He was to go on, while working in the attorney general’s office to acquire a PhD, and an LLD – all externally from London University. I had him transferred immediately to the AG’s Chambers where he eventually succeeded me in the offices of solicitor-general and, eventually, of attorney general to Prime Minister Burnham, who later nominated him as a Judge of the International Court of Justice – the World Court. He was duly elected by the UN — the first Caribbean national to be so chosen. He served as a Judge of the ICJ for nine years – earning the respect of the world’s most discriminating Bar.

‘Shahab’, as we all called him, was a symbol of something else — his work to preserve our country against the sadly outrageous claims of Venezuela. As news of his passing reached me, I was actually working with Guyana’s legal team to submit our Application to the ICJ for justice under law. Fifty years ago, in the Mixed Commission, ‘Shahab’ had been holding the line valiantly against Venezuela’s strivings to keep Guyana away from the ICJ. As he left us yesterday, he knew that his efforts had finally prevailed — that SG Guterres had determined days before that the ICJ is indeed the means to be used next for finding a solution. It was the consummation he would have wished.