HUYE – The National University of Rwanda (NUR) has awarded former UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sadako Ogata with an Honorary Doctorate of Laws.
The colourful ceremony, held yesterday at the University’s main auditorium, saw a Rwandan university offering an honorary degree for the first time.
Ogata was awarded for her role in Rwanda after the 1994 Genocide at a time when she was still at the helm of the UNHCR.
Presenting her with the award, the Chairman of the Board of NUR, Dr. Théogène Rutagwenda, said that the university senate and board had found Prof. Sadako Ogata “a true friend of Rwanda, a distinguished scholar, a mother, a diplomat and an administrator and currently President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency befitting an honorary degree.”
Reading out the citation for the award, Dr. Rutagwenda observed that at the time of assuming the office of the High Commissioner for Refugees in 1991, Sadako Ogata was faced with a daunting refugee crisis in parts of the world, with over 44 million people displaced by war and internal conflicts in different countries.
“Professor Ogata’s primary task as High Commissioner for Refugees was to provide protection, asylum, employment and education for millions of refugees. This also included seeking guarantees that neither the life nor liberty of any refugee would be threatened should he or she opt to return home, a job she did very well,” he observed.
“In addition, she facilitated voluntary repatriation of refugees, their local integration into national communities or their resettlement abroad. In 1995, Prof. Sadako Ogata became the first female recipient of the Liberty Medal for her efforts as the High Commissioner of the UNHCR,” added Rutagwenda.
In June 2000, Ogata also received the Friend of Rwanda award from President Paul Kagame.
“This was in recognition for her efforts to repatriate, resettle and reintegrate the people of Rwanda. Indeed Prof. Sadako Ogata became a strong advocate for the estimated displaced two million Rwandans during the Rwanda crisis in the mid 90s,” Rutagwenda said.
He pointed out that the UNHCR, under Ogata, built the first communal settlements (Imidugudu) to house returning Rwandans.
As President of the JICA, Ogata continues to play a leading role in the development of Rwanda through funding water, transport and agriculture projects.
The Rector of NUR, Prof. Silas Lwakabamba, said that Ogata was a “friend indeed when Rwanda was in need of friends during the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide.”
“It is very good to be able to give something back, however small,” he said in reference to the Honorary Doctorate award. He said that the University is on course to reinvent itself by designing programmes that answer national challenges.
“To accept an honorary doctorate from our University is to become a member of this hard working community.”
The Minister of Education, Dr. Daphrose Gahakwa, who is also the Chancellor of the University, said the country was pleased that “the first ever Honorary Award from NUR should go to someone as distinguished as Prof. Sadako Ogata who worked in an area of great importance to us.”
In her acceptance speech, Ogata said that the award is the first she has got from a University on the African continent.
“I have had close contact with Rwanda during the last 14 years but never have I ever thought I would ever enjoy today’s pleasure,” he said.
“I am intensely proud that the honour bestowed on me by the National University of Rwanda is in recognition of the contribution given by my UNCHR colleagues, and I shall safely relay to them your appreciation.
“I am also pleased that JICA is now carrying on the interests of reconstruction and assisting your efforts in development and growth,” she said.
Ogata reiterated Japan’s support to the development of Africa as demonstrated during the recently-concluded Japan-Africa conference which put emphasis on infrastructure and agriculture. She commended the Government’s efforts in promoting science and technology.
The function was attended by, among others, Cabinet affairs Minister Charles Murigande, Senator Aloysia Inyumba, and Southern Province Governor Fidèle Ndayisaba.
Prof. Ogata is today expected to officiate at the inauguration of the Tumba Technical Collège in Gicumbi District.