Cedric Thornberry

Cedric Henry Reid Thornberry (22 June 1936 – 6 May 2014) was a Northern Irish international lawyer and Assistant-Secretary-General of the United Nations, for which he worked for 17 years. He spent most of his United Nations service in international peace keeping in Cyprus, the Middle East, the former Yugoslavia and Somalia.[1]

Cedric Thornberry
Thornberry in 1999
Cedric Henry Reid Thornberry

(1936-06-22)22 June 1936
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Died6 May 2014(2014-05-06) (aged 77)
EducationMethodist College Belfast
Alma materSt Catharine's College, Cambridge
ChildrenEmily Thornberry


Thornberry was born in Belfast, where he attended Finaghy Primary School and Methodist College. He studied law at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, and graduated first with a BA and then with an LLB and became a barrister in 1959.[2] Thornberry taught at Cambridge University from 1958, and at the London School of Economics from 1960. He was a foreign correspondent for The Guardian in Greece and was a practising human rights lawyer. He was one of the founders of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1968. In the 1970s he represented many applicants at the European Court of Human Rights. He was the father of Shadow International Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry.

He stood for the Labour Party in Guildford in 1966.[3]

United Nations

Cedric Thornberry joined the United Nations in 1978 and became involved in the internationally supervised settlement of the Namibia question. He became Chief of staff of the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG). During UNTAG, he was the Director of the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Namibia, Martti Ahtisaari, and responsible for co-ordination of the Mission’s day-to-day political operation.

Thornberry also served as the Senior Political and Legal Adviser to UNFICYP and to UNTSO, and was Director of Administration and Management at UN headquarters for four years. He was Director of UNPROFOR Civil Affairs at the beginning of the Mission in February 1992, and shortly afterwards became Assistant-Secretary-General of the United Nations when he was made Deputy Chief of Mission of the 50,000-person UN operation in ex-Yugoslavia as well as senior negotiator with all of the Balkan parties. Until the appointment of an SRSG, he was in charge of UNPROFOR’s political, civil, legal and police activities. He remained head of UNPROFOR’s Civil Affairs until early 1994.


Thornberry was a consultant to NATO in the exercises it conducts with the Partnership for Peace countries and a visiting professor at King's College in London.


Cedric Thornberry published several books and contributed many articles for publication in international journals, including:

  • A Nation Is Born: The Inside Story of Namibia's Independence[4]
  • The UN Security Council: From the Cold War to the 21st Century[5]
  • "Peacekeepers, Humanitarian Aid, and Civil Conflicts"[6]
  • Development of International Peace-keeping[7]
  • Peace Keeping, Peace Making and Human Rights[8]


  1. Robin Wilson. "Placing Northern Ireland". Retrieved 20 January 2009.
  2. Ahtisaari, Martti (9 June 2014). "Cedric Thornberry obituary". The Namibian. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  3. "Pioneer in teaching and practice of human rights". The Irish Times. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  4. Cedric Thornberry (2004). A Nation Is Born: The Inside Story of Namibia's Independence. Gamsberg Macmillan Publishers Ltd. ISBN 978-99916-0-521-0.
  5. Cedric Thornberry (2004). David Malone (ed.). The UN Security Council: From the Cold War to the 21st Century. Lynne Rienner Publishers. pp. 407–422 (Namibia). ISBN 978-1-58826-240-0. Retrieved 23 January 2009.
  6. Cedric Thornberry (1 June 1996). "Peacekeepers, Humanitarian Aid, and Civil Conflicts". Journal of Humanitarian Assistance. Archived from the original on 2 November 2009. Retrieved 23 January 2009.
  7. Cedric Thornberry. Development of International Peace-keeping. LSE Centenary Lectures. ISBN 978-0-7530-1060-0. Retrieved 23 January 2009.
  8. Cedric Thornberry (1995). Peace Keeping, Peace Making and Human Rights (Incore Occasional Papers). University of Ulster. ISBN 978-1-85923-032-9.