LAW PIONEERS: Thomas Aboagye Mensah


Very few people get to make a lasting impact in the field of international law. Thomas Aboagye Mensah is one of those few. He became one of the greatest arbitrators on the settlement of international maritime disputes, with his unrivaled expertise recognized and valued from the United Kingdom to China.


There is limited knowledge about the background of Mensah. Perhaps this is because he maintained a low profile and kept his personal life out of the public domain. All we were able to gather is that he was born on 12th May 1932 in Kumasi, the capital of the Asante Kingdom in Ghana.


Mensah excelled impressively in his education right from the beginning when he started at Achimota school in Ghana all the way to Yale University in the United States. For his undergraduate studies he went to the University of Ghana and pursued a Bachelor of Arts.

He later joined the University of London where he studied for a Bachelor of Law and graduated with a first-class honor in 1959. Later he pursued a Master of Law from the same institution. Thomas Mensah joined the Yale University Law School later and in 1964 he obtained a Doctorate of Judicial Science.


Mensah spent quite a significant part of his career in public service. Right after graduating from Yale, he returned to Ghana and worked as a lecturer at the University of Ghana before being promoted shortly afterwards to the position of dean in the faculty of law.

Later in 1968 Mensah moved back to London to work for the International Maritime Organization. His time there was marked with lots of achievements and career milestones. It is during his tenure as a secretary at the IMO that Mensah developed policies, regulations, and standards for the protection of the Marine environment. By 1981, he had become a significant figure at the IMO and held two key positions: director of legal affairs and external relations and assistant secretary general.


After his retirement from the IMO, Thomas Mensah was appointed as Ghana’s first high commissioner to South Africa. Soon after this appointment he was sworn in as a judge at the international tribunal for the maritime laws (ITLOS) and was also made the tribunal’s first president.

Serving as an international adjudicator, Thomas Mensah made several landmark rulings with the most notable one being the international case between the Philippines and China. He died on 7th April 2020 and leaves behind an admirable legacy.


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