Mrs. Ogata served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 1991 to 2000. She was elected to this post by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1990 for three years starting 1 January 1991. She was reelected in 1993 for a further period of five years (January 1994 to December 1998) and was reelected for a further period of two years (January 1999 to December 2000). Before her career as UNHCR, she was the Independent Expert of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar in 1990. From 1982 to 1985, she was also Representative of Japan on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Also during 1978 and 1979, Mrs. Ogata was Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations having served as Minister there from 1976 to 1978.
Mrs. Ogata has also been a prominent academic figure. She was Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Sophia University in Tokyo from 1989. Prior to that (1987-1988), she was Director of the Institute of International Relations at the same university, and Professor from 1980. She received a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California at Berkeley in 1963, an M.A. in International Relations from Georgetown University in Washington D.C. in 1953 and a B.A. from the University of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo in 1951.