Efforts To Expose Burma Atrocities Win Recognition
Efforts To Expose Atrocities in Burma Win U.S. Envoy Recognition
She may not have had the power to stop the brutality of the Burmese regime against peaceful demonstrators, but Shari Villarosa, chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, ensured that the world, as well as the citizens of Burma, was aware of the injustices against pro-democracy demonstrators.
The demonstrations in Burma, which began in late August, are believed to have been the largest since August 1988, when hundreds of thousands of people marched to demand a change in government. Some 3,000 are believed to have died in the brutal suppression that followed those marches.
In 2007, when thousands of peaceful demonstrators took to the streets, Burma's highly revered Buddhist monks joined them. Many were beaten and detained by the police; some may have died.
Successfully circumventing the Burmese regime's efforts to stop communications, Villarosa and her embassy team were at the forefront of efforts to inform the outside world of the atrocities being committed against the Burmese people. Her team was in the streets reporting firsthand the activities of the protesters and those of the police. At the same time, she provided incisive analysis and cogent recommendations that guided U.S. government officials in implementing policy to focus on the restoration of civilian, democratic rule in Burma.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice honored Villarosa's efforts at a ceremony December 10 at the State Department in Washington, where Villarosa was named runner-up for the first Diplomacy for Freedom Award. The award honors U.S. diplomats for outstanding efforts to advance human dignity, end tyranny and promote democracy. The award is part of President Bush's Freedom Agenda, aimed at advancing freedom and democracy around the world.
President Bush has met with dissidents and democratic activists from around the world, including Burmese human rights promoter Charm Tong, a young woman who founded a school for children of the Shan minority group in Burma. Bush has urged every U.S. ambassador in an "unfree nation" to seek out and meet with activists for democracy and human rights.
While the world has long known of the sacrifices made by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to bring democracy to Burma, there are many other Burmese who have been struggling for decades for the same goal. Villarosa and her team have made it a priority to meet with a broader cross section of Burmese pro-democracy activists and encourage younger future pro-democracy leadership.
In addition, Villarosa and her team have set up a journalism training program in a country that subjects the press to heavy censorship and halted university training of journalists. The U.S. Embassy also has brought in speakers to offer training on human rights, community-based organization, business ethics and good governance.
About Burma And U.S. Policy
Rich in natural resources, Burma was once the wealthiest country in Southeast Asia. But the country of some 55 million has become one of the poorest since 1962, when a succession of brutal, highly authoritarian military regimes seized total control. Inflation exceeded 50 percent in 2007, and the vast majority of Burmese citizens now subsist on an average annual income that amounts to less than U.S. $200 per capita.
The annual U.S. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices have consistently documented abuses in Burma - abuses that include executions, rape, torture, arbitrary detention, forced relocation of ethnic minorities, and the surveillance, harassment and imprisonment of political activists.
The regime has locked up more than 1,100 political prisoners. Forced labor, trafficking in persons, conscription of child soldiers and religious discrimination are widespread. Burma's refugee outflows, infectious diseases, and trafficking of drugs and human beings have impacted neighboring countries.
In addition to imposing sanctions on Burma, the United States has taken an active, public role in building international support to urge the Burmese regime to release political prisoners, allow political parties to operate freely, and begin inclusive talks with pro-democracy activists and ethnic minorities to build national reconciliation.
A career Foreign Service officer, Villarosa became chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon on August 31, 2005. Her other overseas assignments have been in Songkhla, Thailand; Brasilia, Brazil; Quito, Ecuador; and Bogota, Colombia.
A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in international studies, Villarosa also has a law degree from the College of William and Mary.