Sadako Ogata, who in 1991 was appointed the first female United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has died at 92, public broadcaster NHK reported Tuesday.
Further details were not immediately available.
Ogata, a scholar and mother of two, became widely known as chief of the U.N. refugee agency from 1991 to 2000, and later served as president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency from 2003 to 2012. She had been working as an advisor of the Executive Committee of the Japan Model United Nations at the time of her death.
Ogata began her stint at the refugee agency as civil conflicts and ethnic cleansing erupted in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda.
In her book, “The Turbulent Decade — Confronting the Refugee Crises of the 1990s,” Ogata described her decadelong stint as UNHCR as a period of constant humanitarian crises in which the “UNHCR worked like fire brigades through all the continents of the world.”
“My life at the time was like being on a merry-go-round, going around the world and seeing all sorts of people’s situations,” Ogata told The Japan Times in 2005.
In an era of tumult, Ogata, with her deft diplomacy, resolute decision-making and on-the-ground approach, won global respect not only from world leaders and U.N. staff, but also from refugees — some of whom even named their children after her.
As word of her decisive and pragmatic leadership spread, she soon earned her the affectionate moniker the “diminutive giant,” mainly for her bold decision-making during the Yugoslav civil wars.
In Japan, she became a paragon for international leadership — something Tokyo had been perceived as lacking at the time.
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