• Kyodo

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Keiko Ko was elected Thursday to serve as one of nine incoming independent experts on a U.N. committee fighting discrimination, becoming the first Japanese to do so.

The Nanzan University law professor received 132 votes, the most of any candidate. She joins two other newly elected female experts from South Korea and Hungary who will serve for four years on the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, beginning Jan. 20.

“I don’t want to be constrained from the beginning to specific issues, but I really like to keep an open mind,” Ko, 51, said after being elected at U.N. headquarters.

Racial discrimination is an issue close to Ko’s heart. Not only has she been deeply inspired by the words of Nelson Mandela, the former South African president and anti-apartheid revolutionary, but she has also experienced growing up as the daughter of a Chinese father in Japan.

“That’s why when I am asked about this committee I thought there is something I can really personally be passionate about,” she explained.

The Tokyo native hopes to also use her extensive academic and professional experience gained from screening asylum seekers in Japan to help monitor how countries implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

To date, 178 countries have signed the instrument, including Japan, which ratified it in 1995.

Ko noted that discrimination remains rampant around the globe but said she hopes her work will help those who suffer for reasons of race, color, descent or national and ethnic origin.

“It is very important to have this standing body,” she emphasized.

While she will maintain her university position, Ko will travel for several sessions a year to work with the other 17 experts in Geneva.

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