Leader Profile: Sadako Ogata, President, Japan International Cooperation Agency and former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

In various conflicts from across the globe, one woman has constantly been in the forefront of these battles –- taking neither of the opposing sides but defending those caught in the middle of disputes. Defying the perils of armed factions, Sadako Ogata has truly etched her name in the field of humanitarian relief.

Ogata is a prominent figure in the field of humanitarian aid and dispute resolution specifically during her tenure at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 1991 to 2000.

“[We] represent the victims, especially the refugees … If there are civilian victims and if many of them are refugees crossing borders, we have to be there,” Ogata said in 1999 in an interview with Harry Kreisler of the University of California at Berkley, where the former U.N. commissioner obtained her Ph.D. in political science.

Born in Tokyo, Ogata’s first refugee work was in 1979 when she was appointed by the Japanese government to lead the country’s mission helping Cambodian immigrants. She was elected in 1990 and was re-elected three times as the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.

Various organizations have recognized Ogata’s efforts during her tenure in the U.N. In 1995, she made history as the first woman recipient of the Liberty Medal, an award given by the National Constitution Center of the United States to valiant men and women who seek to bring peace to the world. Harvard Law School also named her as the 2005 Great Negotiator of the Program on Negotiation, citing her contributions to the field of negotiation and dispute resolution.

Today, eight years after she left her position at the U.N., Ogata continues to help the dispossessed and impoverished. As the chief of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Ogata expanded her development work to help communities deprived of quality education, social security, sufficient infrastructure, adequate water supply and other prerequisites of development.

“It is … important for African countries to pay attention to historical facts in determining economic strategy— reviewing such factors such as the role of institutional governance, income distribution, and sustainable development. In this context, JICA is continuing research on the Asian experience by exchanging opinions with Asian and African economists and experts, to be able eventually to pass on the benefits of these results to other regions such as Africa” Ogata said during a session of the African Union on Feb. 20, 2008.”

Ogata is also prolific author and served in academe in Japan. She was once the dean of the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Sophia University in Tokyo. She obtained her M.A. in International Relations from Georgetown University in Washington D.C. in 1953 and B.A. from the University of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo in 1951. Her recent publications deal with humanitarian crises response.

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