Human Rights Day Special Session: The Legacies of Dr. Sadako Ogata

Update: December 22, 2020

Left photo: Dr. Sadako Ogata and Prof. Yoshikawa [2014]<br> Right photo: Yomiuri Shimbun's Saki Ōuchi speaking of the achievements of Dr. Sadako OgataLeft photo: Dr. Sadako Ogata and Prof. Yoshikawa [2014]
Right photo: Yomiuri Shimbun's Saki Ōuchi speaking of the achievements of Dr. Sadako Ogata

To honor the one-year anniversary since Dr. Sadako Ogata's passing in October of 2019, a special session, titled "The Legacies of Dr. Sadako Ogata," was held on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2020. The event featured a lecture from Professor Motohide Yoshikawa, Distinguished Professor and former Ambassador of Japan to the United Nations, as well as a dialogue session featuring Saki Ōuchi, a Senior Researcher at the Yomiuri Shimbun's Investigation and Research Department, and former Geneva correspondent.
Approximately 50 students attended this special session, presented as part of the General Education Course on Debating International Relations for undergraduate students, organized by Motohide Yoshikawa and Katsuhiko Mōri, and open to all ICU students.

Lecture Outline

"La vida de los muertos está en la memoria de los vivos."
"The life of the dead is placed in the memories of the living." The words of Marcus Tullius Cicero evoked by Professor Yoshikawa in the session's opening remarks set the tone for this special session. Professor Yoshikawa, who learned Diplomatic History at ICU from none other than Dr. Ogata herself, talked about how in the spirit of public service, Dr. Ogata was a person with a strong sense of responsibility to serve. After teaching at ICU and Sophia University, Dr. Ogata went on to various positions, including working for the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations in New York, working as the Japanese Representative of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). She is remembered as a true leader in the fields of humanitarian and development assistance. Professor Yoshikawa said that seeing Dr. Ogata state to the United Nations Security Council during her first appearance as the High Commissioner for Refugees that "there is no humanitarian solution to humanitarian problems," with such conviction remains a moment he remembers vividly.

"Consensus does not occur naturally. It can only be created through true leadership." Saki Ōuchi of Yomiuri Shimbun also shared her memorable moment with Dr. Ogata, a statement she made during an interview carried out by Saki Ōuchi while she was working as Yomiuri Shimbun's Geneva correspondent. During the fierce conflict in Kosovo, when all seemed lost as staff expressed at a meeting that, "we can't do it, it's not enough," Dr. Ogata's calm and collected reply to this turmoil was, "so tell me what you can do, not what you cannot do." Her leadership abilities shone through in this difficult moment, and her attitude in this episode changed the tides.
Learning to be persuasive with the use of academic logic to get to the essence of the problem, as well as a fact-based, hands-on approach in both action and expression is one of the many elements learned in the debate class.

Thoughts from Student Participants

  • This summer, I had the chance to participate in a Model United Nations event on the protection of refugee human rights as the role of an NGO actor. The meetings were policy-based, and I was always wondering, "what might Dr. Ogata do in this situation." By participating in this special session, I was reminded of how important it is to consider the work and actions of Dr. Ogata. I feel inspired to read her of work once again.

  • Dr. Ogata is a striking example of the concept, noblesse oblige, where one who is born into fortunate circumstances has a duty to society and those less fortunate. In particular, Dr. Ogata's support for the Kurdish people, who were unable to cross the Iraqi border. To support them, Dr. Ogata introduced the term 'internally displaced persons (IDPs)' and was instrumental to this new mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

  • Following in the footsteps of Dr. Sadako, through this session I learned to look at the life of a woman from a broader perspective. Rather than comparing the career of a woman who has chosen to marry and have children to the careers of other women her age, it is important to look at what she has accomplished over a longer span of time, not only her progress at a single moment. This type of thinking is a significant takeaway for me from this session.

  • Upon hearing Saki Ōuchi speak about the episode in Yugoslavia, I understood that to work for the United Nations, one must be truly tough. Hearing how Dr. Ogata handled the situation with class and grace, I felt that I would have loved to have the chance to meet her, even just once. Thanks to this special session, being able to hear more about the work of Dr. Ogata has changed my impression of her completely. My impression was once of her being like the Virgin Mary, a gentle motherly figure. But her words are concise like a needle striking with the truth, and I hope that through my debate class I may be able to emulate her eloquent remarks.

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