TOKYO — Sadako Ogata, a respected Japanese public administrator who worked to protect people displaced by conflicts as U.N. high commissioner for refugees, has died, sources familiar with the matter said Tuesday. She was 92.
As the first woman to assume the U.N. post in 1991, Ogata made numerous visits to conflict zones around the world during her tenure through 2000, and led efforts to help refugees and internally displaced people, including Kurdish refugees from Iraq after the Gulf War.
She also tackled the refugee crises in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda during that decade.
According to the sources, she died on Oct. 22. The cause of death was not immediately known.
In 2003, Ogata became the first president of the newly independent Japan International Cooperation Agency and oversaw efforts to provide aid to developing countries including Afghanistan and South Sudan. She retired as head of the agency in 2012.
More recently, Ogata served as a member of an advisory body to the organizing committee of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Despite her advanced age, Ogata’s death was met with shock by those close to her.
“I had planned to go to Japan tomorrow and was looking forward to calling on her like I always do,” said Izumi Nakamitsu, the U.N. undersecretary general and high representative for disarmament affairs who previously worked under Ogata at the UNHCR office and calls her a mentor.
“She was getting on but still in good health, so I didn’t imagine she would pass away,” Nakamitsu said, though she added that she believed death of Ogata’s husband Shijuro, a former Bank of Japan deputy governor for international relations, in 2014 had taken a toll.
Ogata was born in Tokyo on Sept. 16, 1927, into a prominent political family — her great-grandfather was prime minister Tsuyoshi Inukai and her grandfather was foreign minister Kenkichi Yoshizawa. She spent her early years abroad, including in the United States and China.
Graduating from the University of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo, she went on to obtain a master’s degree from Georgetown University and a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley.
After becoming the first Japanese woman to represent the country at the United Nations in 1976, Ogata served as the Japanese representative at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights from 1982 to 1985.
Ogata became an associate professor at International Christian University in Tokyo in 1974 and then a professor at Sophia University in Tokyo in 1980.
In 1989, she became head of the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Sophia.