Sadako Ogata

Sadako Ogata
緒方 貞子
Sadako Ogata (cropped).jpg
Sadako Ogata in 1993
President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency
In office
1 October 2003 – 30 March 2012
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Akihiko Tanaka
Head of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
In office
3 November 1990 – 31 December 2000
Preceded by Thorvald Stoltenberg
Succeeded by Ruud Lubbers
President of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund
In office
Preceded by Ferdinand Oyono
Succeeded by Zaki Hasan
Personal details
中村 貞子 (Nakamura Sadako)

(1927-09-16)16 September 1927
Azabu, Tokyo City, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan
(present day Minato, Tokyo, Japan)
Died 22 October 2019(2019-10-22) (aged 92)
Tokyo, Japan
( m. 1960; died 2014)
Children Two; including Atsushi Ogata
Alma mater University of the Sacred Heart
Georgetown University
University of California, Berkeley

Sadako Ogata, née Nakamura (緒方 貞子, Ogata Sadako, 16 September 1927 – 22 October 2019), was a Japanese academic, diplomat, author, administrator, and professor emeritus at the Roman Catholic Sophia University.[1] She was widely known as the head of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from 1991 to 2000, as well as in her capacities as Chair of the UNICEF Executive Board from 1978 to 1979 [2][3] and as President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) from 2003 to 2012. She also served as Advisor of the Executive Committee of the Japan Model United Nations (JMUN).[4]

Early and academic life

Ogata was born on 16 September 1927[5] to a career diplomat father Toyoichi Nakamura, who was the Japanese ambassador to Finland. Her mother was a daughter of Foreign Minister Kenkichi Yoshizawa and granddaughter of Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi, who was assassinated when Ogata was four years old.

She attended the Catlin Gabel School, class of 1946, and graduated from the University of the Sacred Heart with a bachelor's degree in English Literature. She then studied at Georgetown University and its Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, earning a master's degree in International Relations. It was not common for a Japanese woman to study abroad at that time. She wanted to study the reason why Japan caused a reckless aggression war.[6] She was awarded a PhD in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley in 1963, after she completed a dissertation on the politics behind the foundation of Manchukuo. The study analyzed the causes of the Japanese invasion of China. In 1965, she became Lecturer at International Christian University. After 1980, she taught international politics at Sophia University[7] as a professor and later became Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Studies until her departure to join the UNHCR in 1991.


Ogata at the World Economic Forum on Africa, Cape Town, South Africa, on 4 June 2008

United Nations / United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Ogata was appointed to Japan's UN mission in 1968, on the recommendation of Fusae Ichikawa, a member of the House of Councillors of Japan and an activist who thought highly of Ogata. She represented Japan at several sessions of the UN General Assembly in 1970. In addition, she served from 1978 to 1979 as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary for the permanent mission of Japan to the UN, and as Chair of the UNICEF Executive Board.[2][3]

In 1990, she was appointed as head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). She was the first woman to be appointed as a head of the UNHCR.[8] She left Sophia University to start her new position at UNHCR. Her presumed term at UNHCR was only three years, which was the remaining term of her predecessor who had left after only one year. She was re-elected twice (in November 1993 and in September 1998),[9] and served until 2001.[10]

She implemented effective strategies and helped countless refugees escape from despair, including Kurdish refugees after the Gulf War, refugees in the Yugoslav Wars, refugees in the Rwandan genocide, and Afghan refugees including victims of Cold War.[10] In the face of Kurdish refugees at the border between Turkey and Iraq, Ogata expanded the mandate of UNHCR to include the protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs).[10] She was a practical leader who deployed military forces in the humanitarian operations, for example at the siege of Sarajevo, the Airlift Operations in cooperation with some European air forces during the Bosnian War.[10] During the period, the budget and the staff in UNHCR more than doubled.[11]

In 2001, she became co-chairperson of UN Human Security Commission.

Japanese government / JICA President

In 2001, after the September 11 attacks, she was appointed as Special Representative of Prime Minister of Japan on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan.

Ogata in 2012

The Koizumi government approached Ogata as a candidate to replace Makiko Tanaka as Japanese foreign minister in early 2002, but Ogata refused to accept the position. Although Ogata did not publicly explain her refusal, Kuniko Inoguchi told The New York Times that Ogata "would hate to be used as a token or a figurehead because she has fought all her life for the condition of women, and she wouldn't help someone who would try to use her for their political purposes."[12]

Next year, going back to Tokyo, the Japanese government appointed her as President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) on 1 October 2003. It was reported that young JICA officials expressed their strong desire for her leadership, even before the formal appointment.[13] She led JICA with her emphasis on ideas from fields and Human Security.[14] She built up peace-building projects on Afghanistan and Mindanao.[15] By adding loan assistance, under her leadership JICA became the world-largest bi-laterial aid organization in 2008.[16] She continued to work as president of JICA for more than two terms (over eight years), retiring in April 2012 to be succeeded by Akihiko Tanaka.

She was a member of The Advisory Council on the Imperial House Law on 27 November 2014. The council was Junichiro Koizumi then-Prime Minister's private advisory organ which belonged to the Cabinet Office.[17] The council met 17 times from 25 January 2005 to discuss the Japanese succession controversy and the Imperial Household Act. On 24 November 2005, The Advisory Council's recommendation included female members' right to the throne including the right to be extended to the female lineage, and extension of the primogeniture to female members of the imperial household.[18] Both Ogata and Empress Michiko's alma mater is the University of the Sacred Heart.

A "Reception for Respecting Mrs. Sadako Ogata's Contributions to Our Country and the International Community" was held by Kōichirō Genba, Minister for Foreign Affairs on 17 April 2012, in Tokyo.[19] Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda gave a speech. He said "Because of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, the offers of assistance to Japan from more than 160 countries and more than 40 international organizations were NOT irrelevant to Mrs. Sadako Ogata's achievements".[20]

Ogata was involved in the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation.[21]


Japanese decorations



  • "If we ignore the plight of the refugees or the burden of the countries which have received them, I fear we will pay a heavy toll in renewed violence. Conditions must be created urgently to allow the refugees to go back and live in peace and tolerance in their own country." — Liberty Medal acceptance speech, 4 July 1995[28]

Personal life

In 1960, Nakamura married Shijuro Ogata (1927–2014), a son of Taketora Ogata, who was also an official of the Bank of Japan[7] and later became its executive director. After the marriage, she changed her name to Sadako Ogata. She has one son (Atsushi Ogata, a film director) and one daughter. Ogata died on 22 October 2019 at the age of 92.[29]

Family tree

Tsuyoshi Inukai
Misao Kenkichi Yoshizawa
Tsuneko Toyoichi Nakamura Taketora Ogata
Sadako Ogata Shijūrō Ogata
Atsushi Ogata