Sophia Magazine vol.1 / SUMMER 2015

21Ueki (U): Mrs. Ogata, when you were offered the position of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 1990, you were a professor at the Institute of International Relations at Sophia University. I understand you were encourag-ing young students to actively contribute to international peace and the well-being of people all over the world.Ogata(O): I still do that. I had already started represent-ing Japan at the UN and other international fora back in the late 1960s. It was Ms. Fusae Ichikawa, an advocate for women’s rights, who contributed to placing a woman on the Japanese delegation to the General Assembly. She was looking for an appropriate candidate. In 1968, I had returned home after completing my graduate studies in the United States. Ms. Ichikawa suggested that I join the delegation.U: You also worked at the Japanese Mission to the UN.O: That was from 1976 to 1979, for a total of three and a half years. I attended the Third Committee of the General Assembly that dealt with social, human rights and human-itarian issues.U: When you were teaching at Sophia University, what were the students like?O: Students are students (laughs). I taught a history course on international relations in Asia and held related semi-nars with a smaller number of students covering the period from the Opium War to World War II. My doctoral disser-tation dealt with the decision-making process in Japan in the early 1930s that led to the Manchurian incident and subsequent wars.U: When the UN approached you to become the High Commissioner for Refugees, did you wonder whether you should accept the offer?O: Yes, I wondered. The work itself, I knew, would be very challenging, because human rights and refugee is-sues were politically sensitive and relevant. The UN itself is a political body. When it gets to matters of refugees and humanitarian issues, political factors come into the open. The UN was not the strongest body to deal with thesecomplex issues.U: You also had a family and you must have pondered whether you should stay in Japan or take up the job?O: It was indeed a difcult decision to make. But luckily, my husband was coming close to the end of his banking career and it became a little easier for me to take up theposition.U: One of the rst issues you confronted was the Kurdish refugees in Northern Iraq after the Gulf War.O: That was one of them. The Kurdish issue was very complicated.U: Many Kurdish people crossed the border into Iran but many were stranded on the Turkish border. Turkey was reluctant to admit them due to the Kurdish issue withinTurkey. They became internally displaced people (IDPs), who were not necessarily under the mandate of UNHCR.O: The mixture of refugees and IDPs was a very serious issue. International law was created by states to address issues between states. What would happen if these dis-placed people stayed inside the borders? I had to address the nuances and difculties related to these issues when-ever I visited the eld. There were all sorts of legal com-plications over who should be considered a refugee and who should not. I tended to be more pragmatic than just following the law.U: I think you really raised the issue to an international level.O: I ended up doing a lot for a wide range of people. The real issue was not whether they were refugees or not, it was who was obliged to protect them. And that became the real big question, because not all refugees were well taken care of by receiving countries. So in many ways, we had to bring these communities together in order to jointly work out a solution.U: One of the biggest challenges that confronted you then was the war in Bosnia. I remember once you came to the UN Security Council. You initially preferred to maintain the neutrality of humanitarian assistance. Even though the UN had deployed a peacekeeping force in Bosnia, you More Pragmatic than Just Following the LawAbove: In 2002, Ogata was appointed Special Representa-tive of the Prime Minister of Japan on Reconstruction As-sistance to Afghanistan. Ogata visited Afghanistan in 2004.Below: Ogata, as president of JICA, visited Ethiopia in 2004 and attended the meeting of the UN High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Changes. (Photo:JICA)Special Talk

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