Post Date: October 6, 2005

The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School today announced that the recipient of its 2005 Great Negotiator award is Sadako Ogata, the former United Nations high commissioner for refugees in the 1990s. Ogata is known for mobilizing support to deal with the emerging crisis of those identified as “internally displaced persons” in the Kurdish region of Iraq, the Balkans, Afghanistan and the African Great Lakes region, which encompasses the borders of Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Distinguished as one of the top 10 most influential women in the world during that time, most of Ogata’s negotiating on behalf of the world’s dispossessed was low-profile and unheralded, conducted in a vigorous, hands-on manner that often placed her in harm’s way on the frontlines of conflict.

“All of us at PON are deeply impressed with the type of extraordinary negotiations Sadako Ogata undertook during her tenure at the United Nations. Her skilled negotiations on behalf of refugees saved many lives, yet are less well understood than many higher profile diplomatic efforts. We are looking forward to learning from Mrs.Ogata about her remarkable experiences in working to protect those who were defenseless and dispossessed,” said Robert Mnookin, chair of the Program on Negotiation.

Born in Tokyo, Sadako Ogata grew up in Japan and China. She received her Ph.D. in political science from the University of California at Berkley. She became the dean of the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Sophia University in Tokyo and transitioned to diplomacy serving on the Japanese delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in 1968, and as minister on the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations in New York between 1976 and 1979. Ogata’s first direct contact with refugees was when she was asked by the Japanese government to lead the Japanese mission to plan and provide assistance to Cambodian refugees in 1979. She was first elected to become U.N. high commissioner for refugees in 1990 and was reelected to that post three times until her final term ended in 2000.

Described by colleagues as a five-foot giant, the diminutive Ogata was a formidable negotiator often having to deal with the indifference of governments, or confront the hostility of armed factions with which she was seeking cooperation. Lacking some traditional negotiating tools such as financial and military resources, she and her colleagues at the UNHC overcame daunting barriers to improve the plight of refugees and ensure their safety.

Beyond such direct negotiations, Ogata has been an effective proponent of initiatives such as the Imagine Coexistence Project, spearheaded by PON faculty member Antonia Chayes and Harvard Law School Professor Martha Minow, that designed and funded joint economic activities to make conflict less likely among previously warring factions in unstable regions.

Ogata is currently the president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a national agency for international development assistance. She is the author of the recently released book A Turbulent Decade—Confronting the Refugee Crisis of the 1990s (March, 2005; WW. Norton and Co.), which details her experiences.

Ogata will be honored by members of the Harvard community and invited guests on October 20 at the Fogg Art Museum. Prior to the evening reception, she will participate in panel discussions with faculty members of the Program on Negotiation that will take place Thursday, October 20 at Ames Courtroom, Austin Hall, Harvard Law School from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sponsored by the Program on Negotiation, the discussions with Sadako Ogata are free and open to the public. For more information about the public discussions, please visit or call: 617-495-1684.

The Great Negotiator Award was created six years ago by the Program on Negotiation to recognize an individual whose lifetime achievements in the field of negotiation and dispute resolution have had a significant and lasting impact. Past recipients of the Great Negotiator Award include Richard Holbrooke, former United States ambassador to the United Nations (2004), Stuart Eizenstat, former U.S. ambassador to the European Union (2003), Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations’ special envoy for Afghanistan (2002), Charlene Barshefsky, U.S. trade representative in the second Clinton administration (2001) and former Senator George Mitchell for his work in Northern Ireland (2000).

About the Program on Negotiation:

The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School (PON) is a world-renowned research center committed to improving the theory and practice of negotiation and dispute resolution. As a consortium of faculty, students and staff from Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University and other Boston area universities, PON draws from many disciplines, including law, business, government, psychology, economics, anthropology and education. PON presents lectures, discussions, classes, and conferences in addition to producing books, periodicals and training materials that feature the research and achievements of scholars and practitioners worldwide. For more information, please visit