On 27 August 2007, minorities worldwide lost Atsuko Tanaka-Fox, one of their most important and effective advocates at the UN. Atsuko died from cancer at the age of 36.
Atsuko, a Japanese national, had been the Geneva representative of the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism for over a decade. There, she was often the key voice persuading the UN to take a more effective role in preventing discrimination and protecting minorities. She was so often the first person that minorities, and MRG, looked to for guidance in working with the UN and helped countless people and organisations over the last decade.
Atsuko’s legacy over 10 years is immense. Just two examples need be given. The first was the success of the campaign to persuade the UN to examine and address the issue of descent-based discrimination, culminating in a UN decision that these groups suffer from racial discrimination. This has begun the process of improving the lives of millions of some of the most marginalised communities, such as the Dalits (Untouchables) and the Burakumin in Atsuko’s native Japan. Another victory was the creation of the UN office of the Independent Expert on Minority Issues, concluding a five-year campaign for the first such mechanism specifically for minorities. On both campaigns, Atsuko was at the forefront, bringing together people and issues from many countries to the culmination of their work in Geneva.
Atsuko, who studied at Essex University, leaves behind her husband Graham, and many friends at MRG and in minorities across the world. Her last campaign was to ensure an effective forum for minorities at the UN. It would be a fitting legacy to her if the UN member states agree to this in the coming weeks.