UNV Deputy Executive Coordinator Kyoko Yokosuka (center) speaks in Japan at an event commemorating 30 years since the passing of UN Volunteer Atsuhito Nakata in Cambodia.
UNV Deputy Executive Coordinator Kyoko Yokosuka (center) speaks in Japan at an event commemorating 30 years since the passing of UN Volunteer Atsuhito Nakata in Cambodia.

Speech of UNV Executive Coordinator in Japan at 30-year commemoration of the passing of Atsuhito Nakata

Ms Kyoko Yokosuka, Deputy Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, addressed an event in Kyoto, Japan, commemorating 30 years since the passing of former UN Volunteer Atsuhito Nakata in Cambodia. She spoke on behalf of UNV Executive Coordinator, Mr Toily Kurbanov. Below are the remarks she delivered.

Excellencies, distinguished guests, dear volunteers,

It is my honour to welcome you today, as we pay tribute to the late Mr. Atsuhito Nakata. Thirty years after his passing in 1993, we are here to remember the dedication and commitment of a young man, who chose to serve as UN Volunteer to help build a peaceful and democratic society in Cambodia.

Atsuhito was one of 465 UN Volunteers to support the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia, UNTAC, as District Electoral Supervisor. In the province of Kampong Thom, Atsuhito helped to organize electoral processes at the community level and to inform the Cambodian population about the elections and democratic principles. He was only 25 years old, when he and his Khmer interpreter, Lek Sophief, were killed in a tragic ambush that left their families, friends and colleagues devastated.

Today and always, we continue to remember Atsu, as he was called by his friends, as a dynamic, active and passionate young man. A man who did not just want to feel sorry about other people’s troubles from a safe distance, but who chose to go out there and volunteer, to show his solidarity and support through his actions.

On the executive floor at the UNV headquarters in Bonn, Germany, we have a large painting of Atsu in action. This painting serves as a reminder to us working in the organization, of the dedication and volunteering spirit of Atsu, and we are determined to work on ensuring the safe environment for our volunteers to prosper at their workplace.     

I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge the valuable contribution of his father, the late Mr Takehito Nakata. After his son’s death, he committed his life to carrying on Atsuhito’s desire to contribute to peace and development.As our Honorary Ambassador, he helped to promote UNV, and, more importantly, volunteerism around the world.

Mr Takehito Nakata spoke passionately and frequently about the contributions and the future potential of volunteering. Through his visits to many countries, he inspired many partners: local communities, non-governmental organizations, government officials, the media, and, first and foremost, volunteers serving within the United Nations system and beyond. 

Atsuhito’s legacy made his father one of the driving forces behind the International Year of Volunteers in 2001. Proposed by the Government of Japan and proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly, the International Year of Volunteers represented a global recognition of the power of volunteers and volunteerism.

In 1993, Atsuhito Nakata was one of 3,600 UN Volunteers supporting the United Nations system globally. In 30 years, this number nearly tripled, with over 12,400 UN Volunteers serving in 2022, working with 55 UN partners in 165 countries. Since the first Japanese UN Volunteer was deployed in 1971, over 1,000 men and women from Japan have served as UN Volunteers. In recent years, around 100 Japanese UN Volunteers serve every year. Many of them work as Programme, Protection and Peacebuilding Officers, many in the Asia-Pacific and East and Southern Africa, but also across the globe.

UNV’s engagement in peacekeeping operations started with the deployment of Atsuhito Nakata and his peers in the early 1990s. Last year, 3,730 UN Volunteers supported United Nations Secretariat entities and missions as civilian personnel. Of these, the largest number, 1,706, served directly in peacekeeping operations, where they have become the backbone of the work on human rights, community liaison, health, public information, as well as various mission support functions.

Mr Sukehiro Hasegawa, UNV’s former Deputy Executive Coordinator, is here with us today. And taking this opportunity I would like to recognize, with great appreciation, the role Mr Hasegawa played in transforming UNV into a strong partner for UN peacekeeping interventions. Today, major global disruptions and crises call on UNV to maintain its focus on emergency actions, centred around the rapid deployment of UN Volunteers to support the response efforts of United Nations partner entities. Mr Hasegawa, thank you for your dedication in helping UNV during the critical juncture and a turning point in its history. 

The organization has learned from the painful experience of Atsu’s passing. UNV and the United Nations entities are committed to ensuring the safety and security of serving UN Volunteers. We continue to work on safeguarding UN Volunteers' wellbeing, safety and interests. Our progress today is a continuation of what Mr Hasegawa started many years ago. Volunteers’ learning remains a very important part of these efforts. UNV invests in knowledge generation, sharing and learning to promote and enhance the quality and impact of the volunteering experience.

On behalf of more than 12,000 UN Volunteers and UNV staff in our headquarters in Germany and across the world, I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Nakata family. And we encourage all of us to cherish the memory of Atsuhito and Takehito Nakata. For UNV and volunteers worldwide, they will always be a source of inspiration.

In the current context, in which the world needs a stronger UN to address the wide range of serious challenges, we strongly believe that the spirit of volunteerism, where compassion meets solidarity, is more relevant than ever before. 

The UN Secretary-General recently said that the world faces a stark choice between a breakdown or a breakthrough. At UNV, we believe that solidarity can help us achieve the breakthrough.

UNV will continue to promote peace and development through volunteerism and to help create an enabling environment for people willing to volunteer.

Let me close by expressing our sincere appreciation to the Kyoto Peacebuilding Center, led by Professor Sukehiro Hasegawa, and the Government of Japan, whose continued support allows UNV to carry out its mission.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your participation today and for your continued support to UNV, and to the volunteers.    

Thank you.