The Turbulent Promotion Tour: Sadako Ogata

Sadako Ogata came to DC this week to promote her new book, The Turbulent Decade, which chronicles her stint as UN High Commissioner on Refugees from 1990-2000. I took Mrs. Adamu to see her give a talk at the Library of Congress. You can listen to her Mar 8 appearance on The Diane Rehm Show, a local NPR politics roundup. She also made appearances in New York.

The audience was, not surprisingly, mostly professional, Japanese women. Ogata is a hero(ine) to Japanese women because she was one of the first Japanese women to secure a major role in Japanese politics, born in an era when few women attended college. She’s been the subject of countless TV shows and books (Including “Sadako Ogata’s Way of Life“), causing a bit of a sensation because of her liberal politics (and pedigree), direct personality, and unapologetic professionalism and cosmopolitanism.

I couldn’t help but be a little surprised when I saw the diminuitive figure of the elderly Ogata. I was expecting someone larger than life judging from all the hype. She did have an aura about her that exuded confidence. She deserve it — not was she the first woman, the first Japanese, and the first academic UNHCR, she is also credited with changing refugee assistance from the traditional “set up camps when they get here” model to what we know today. Under Ogata, humanitarian aid came first, political solutions were the number one priority, and in general she refused to allow refugee assistance to become a “humanitarian figleaf” that masked a dire situation.

The talk itself ended up being a kind of disappointment, with Clark sounding off at any opportunity with lines from his 2004 presidential campaign (Inside info: He’s planning to run again). But some interesting points:

  • All refugee crises are inherently political. Today’s refugees are tomorrow’s soldiers, as was and is the case in Rwanda. This makes UNHCR’s job twice as difficult.
  • In Kosovo, the refugees became the weapons. “Ethnic cleansing” by definition means expelling people from their homes, creating large numbers of refugees and internally displaced people, the would-be refugees.

  • Ogata prefers not to talk about Japan’s role in refugee assistance and human rights promotion, presumably because of its atrocious record. This we found out by asking two questions at the talk:
    “As someone who is well-known as a powerful voice in Japan’s foreign policy, I wonder what you think of Japan’s role in refugee assistance and in particular accepting refugees, and also what do you think the future of organizations like JICA might be?”

    She answered in purely general terms, saying that JICA does a good job in its mission, Japan has done a lot to help refugees abroad but could “do better” at home.

    Mrs. Adamu’s question: “General Clark mentioned the importance of regional human rights institutions, but Asia does not have it. I know that more than half amount of development assistance of Japan and JICA is for the Asia region. However, I think that its assistance has been divorced from the aspect of human rights. How do you evaluate Japan’s role in the region to improve human rights.”

    Ogata: “Asia is the least regionally-organized region (in terms of regional human rights infrastructure). However, what can be done and what we are trying to do is to improve the countries economics first. Currently, some of the Asian countries are working together for establishing a new free trade system. The economic development leads to stabilize the region because many Asian countries are economically underdeveloped. For example some countries such as Malaysia and Thailand developed its economics and started becoming donor countries among Asian countries. Improving human rights and establishing a regional human rights institution in Asia are not everything. We are trying to meet the needs of the Asia region. For historical reasons that I won’t discuss here, Japan has not been able to do much in promoting human rights. Asia wants to come together, but its focus has currently been free trade agreement.”

    Ogata is actually an expert in Japan’s relations with China and other Asian countries. One of her first major works was a study of the League of Nations around the time of the Manchurian Incident.

    From Wiki:

    Sadako Ogata (緒方 貞子: Ogata Sadako; born 1927) is a Japanese scholar and administrator. She served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 1991 until 2001. Now she is the chief of the board of Japan International Cooperation Agency.

    She was born in Tokyo. Her mother was a daughter of Inukai Tsuyoshi and influenced by his liberal political attitude. She was graduated from University of the Sacred Heart, Tokyo and later studied in Georgetown University and University of California, Berkeley. She taught international politics at Sophia University.

    3 thoughts on “The Turbulent Promotion Tour: Sadako Ogata”

    1. Thanks for the very good post on Ogata’s speech. She is literally one of the few recognizable Internationally-known Japanese women. She’s a wonderful role model, it is a shame that she is one of the few (instead of one of many.)

    2. hello

      Did you read this article ?
      The legal amendments will be approved by Committee on Judicial Affairs
      on next Tuesday.

      Help refugees in Japan

      Info exchange on refugees rapped
      Lawyers see asylum bids ending if home countries are told

      Staff writer

      Japan may explicitly legalize providing personal information on people
      seeking asylum to authorities in their country of origin, where they
      fear persecution, lawyers said Monday. In April, legal amendments aimed
      at cracking down on human-trafficking were approved by the House of
      Councilors — including a revision to the Immigration Control and
      Refugee Recognition Law.

      The revision, which is now before the House of Representatives, states
      that the justice minister may provide information to foreign authorities
      “if necessary to carry out tasks related to immigration control and
      refugee recognition.”

      Lawyer Tadanori Onitsuka, who represents people seeking asylum,
      criticized the amendment, saying Japan would be cooperating with foreign
      authorities who pose a persecution threat.

      “If this revision is enacted, people will not be able to seek asylum (in
      Japan),” Onitsuka said. “If information on asylum seekers is to be
      provided to their alleged persecutors, their family members remaining in
      (their home countries) could face persecution.”

      There is currently no legal provision that stops Japan from such action.

      Last summer, immigration officials traveled to Turkey to investigate the
      backgrounds of Kurds seeking asylum in Japan. Onitsuka pointed out that
      the immigration officials provided the Turkish government with personal
      information, including the names of the people in question.

      Amnesty International has slammed the action, saying “the Japanese
      government has increased the risk of serious human rights violations,
      including arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment” in the event
      the people are sent back to their home country.

      One of the Kurds targeted in the “investigation” said Japanese officials
      along with Turkish police and military officials went to the home of his
      family. There, his brother was asked various questions, including what
      kind of activities the Kurd had engaged in, why he traveled to Japan and
      why he was seeking asylum.

      “Because of this (investigation), my family had to flee from home,” the
      Kurdish man told The Japan Times. “Even now, no one answers the phone in
      the house. I have no means to contact them, and I have to wait for the
      very seldom phone calls I receive from them.”

      The Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau said Japan routinely exchanges
      information with foreign immigration officials on certain cases,
      including on investigations into immigration law violations.

      Regarding asylum cases, a senior official at the Immigration Bureau said
      that if the fact of seeking asylum has already been made public, Japan
      may exchange relevant information with the country of origin for factual
      confirmation of their situation there.

      This will include a situation in which a person seeking asylum has been
      denied refugee status and has filed suit seeking to have the rejection
      overturned, thereby publicly contesting the immigration decision, the
      official said.

      “(This law) does not mean that we will provide any information that has
      been requested by the other government,” the official argued.

      “We will carefully consider each person’s situation so as not to create
      the danger of persecution.”

      The Japan Times: June 7, 2005

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