June 05, 2018 (LBO) – Perhaps Sri Lanka’s most fierce global legal advocate passed away on June 2, 2018.
Sir Desmond de Silva’s achievements were global, the most visible being his term as United Nations Chief Prosecutor. In this role Sir Desmond was elevated to the rank of Under Secretary General reporting directly to Secretary General Kofi Annan.
As Chief Prosecutor he spent years pursuing Liberia’s former President Charles Taylor. This pursuit finally culminated in Taylor’s arrest and unprecedented transfer to the Hague to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. With the eventual verdict, Taylor’s conviction became the first time a former head of state was convicted by an international tribunal since the Nuremberg trials.
Sir Desmond’s life is chronicled in his recent biography released in September 2017 titled: “Madam, Where Are Your Mangoes?”
The memoir takes you with Sir Desmond all over the world. The chronicle moves through a storied career starting as the scion of a family of lawyers in colonial Ceylon, a marriage to a royal descendant of Queen Victoria, practice at the Bar, and culminating in the unprecedented arrest of Charles Taylor. In the book there is also a chronicle of his legal casework, which provides a fascinating look into the practice of law in the United Kingdom.
A remarkable situation which he discussed with me personally was his meeting with President George W. Bush, and Vice President Dick Cheney in the Oval Office. In the meeting the President pledged his full support towards Desmond’s pursuit of Charles Taylor (including potential military assets). I was also let in on fascinating details of the interaction between Bush, Cheney and himself. Interestingly this interaction was left out of his memoir.
Sir Desmond was a man who operated at the top of the world order. The honours and recognition are too many to mention. He was a legal advocate second to none, and a fantastic personality certainly worthy of a novel.
He was the grandson of George De Silva (member of Sri Lanka’s first Cabinet) and son of Fredrick De Silva, a political leader and later Ambassador.