Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Ogata Sadako’s Epitaph
CHINO Keiko / Journalist

November 5, 2019
I first interviewed Madame Sadako Ogata at a send-off party for her when she was appointed to be the first woman Minister at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations. It was in fact the women sending her off that were excited at this “brilliant” appointment, and Madame Ogata herself was calmly talking about her plans and aspirations for the new job.

She was born into a diplomatic family, with a former Prime Minister, Inukai Tsuyoshi as great-grandfather and a former Foreign Minister, Yoshizawa Kenkichi, as grandfather. For her, who had grown up as a child in the richly cosmopolitan environment of America, China and Hong Kong, there was little that was special about the United Nations.

After her term as Minister at Japan’s UN mission, the UN continued to be the field of her active engagement where she served as the Japanese government’s representative to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, in addition to her career as a university professor.

In her life, it was during her term as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (1991~2000) that she exerted her potential to the utmost and did so with brilliance. The end of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union brought about the intensification of ethnic conflicts, sharply increasing the number of refugees fleeing these conflicts beyond the 5 million mark in the 1980s before Madame Ogata assumed office. When she stepped down ten years later, the number had ballooned to 22million. This was truly the beginning of the age of refugees.

Madame Ogata consistently pursued an on-site, hands-on approach instead of remaining sedentary in her office in Geneva. She was quick in decision-making, action-oriented, and exerted strong and clear leadership. Thus UNHCR, till then a relatively small and unobtrusive presence in the UN system, quickly came into prominence.

The image of this petite lady who would venture into dangerous disputed areas wearing a helmet and bulletproof vest won her the accolade “diminutive giant” among the Western media.

Beneath her on-site, hands-on approach lay her unshakable commitment to the protection of refugees, based on her firm belief that human lives must be saved. “If they stay alive, they can be given the next chance”, she wrote in her book “My Work”.

She also kept saying, “We must never forget conflicts”, because if we do, we will be abandoning refugees.

She carried her on-site, hands-on approach on to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), of which she was appointed the first woman President. She actively dispatched young JICA officers to actual sites of international cooperation to gain field experiences. It was apparently based on her wish to revitalize JICA and her high expectation for Japan’s international cooperation.

In the interview conducted in connection with the feature “My choice of the 10 biggest news items in the 20th century” of Sankei Shimbun dated August 20th, 2000, she said, “I wish to see Japan play a big humanitarian role. Can Japan live and prove its worth any other way? I would like Japan to tackle global issues in a larger context of the world.”

Her ideas subsequently bore fruit in the form of the initiative for “Human Security”.

Today, however, conflicts continue to become more complex and enlarged, and refugees continue to increase. Amidst all this, is Japan taking the lead in its humanitarian role and tackling global issues on the big stage of the world? Ogata Sadako was so concerned about the inward-looking tendency of Japanese society and the decline of the principle of international cooperation. Now, it is more important than ever before to carry out her earnest wishes.

It would be amiss if I did not mention her husband Shijuro, who was an Executive Director at the Bank of Japan and passed away in 2014. He proudly declared himself to be the “house husband”, and was more pleased than others about his wife’s appointment as UNHCR in Geneva. He appeared often at press conferences held at the Japan National Press Club, and always asked questions.

When I said to him “You act like an exemplary journalist”, he replied, “ I am always thinking about what questions to ask, so that Sadako can approve.”

Ogata Sadako kept a calm, poised presence without losing her broad perspectives amid the harsh conditions of conflict areas. Behind her was the reassuring, cheerful and witty Shijuro.

Chino Keiko is a freelance journalist and Guest Columnist of the Sankei Shimbun. This is a revised version of the article that appeared in the Sankei Shimbun of October 30th , 2019.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

墓碑銘:緒方貞子さん 防弾チョッキの「小さな巨人」
千野 境子 / ジャーナリスト

2019年 11月 5日















筆者はフリーランス・ジャーナリスト。 本稿は産経新聞10月30日付記事に補筆した。
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟