U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda: Who Is Erica Barks-Ruggles?
On July 17, 2014, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing into the nomination of Erica J. Barks-Ruggles to be the U.S. ambassador to Rwanda. It would be the first ambassadorial post for Barks-Ruggles, a career Foreign Service officer.
Barks-Ruggles is a native of Minnesota who attended Swarthmore College outside Philadelphia. She graduated in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and English literature. Her first job out of college was as a paralegal with a Washington law firm. Barks-Ruggles’ first experience with Africa came in 1991 while backpacking across the continent with the man who would become her husband, Taylor Ruggles, another career Foreign Service officer. She joined the State Department that year.
Barks-Ruggles’ first overseas assignment came in 1992 when she was vice consul at the U.S. Consulate in Chennai (Madras), India. In 1994, she returned to Washington, first as desk officer in the Bureau of African Affairs and then in 1996 to a post in the Executive Secretariat. Later that year, she was seconded to the National Security Council as director of African Affairs. Barks-Ruggles moved back to the Department of State in 1999 as special assistant to the under secretary for political affairs.
In 2000, she was sent to the Brookings Institution as an international affairs fellow. While there, she prepared briefs about the economic impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa. The following year Barks-Ruggles was sent overseas, this time to the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway, as economic section chief.
She returned to Washington in 2004, first as a member of the State Department’s policy planning staff, focusing on the Middle East. In 2005, Barks-Ruggles was named deputy assistant Secretary of state for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. While in that post, she focused on Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel and Palestinian affairs, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. In 2008, Barks-Ruggles was asked by her superiors to tone down a report on human rights in North Korea, removing words such as “repressive” and “regime.”
Barks-Ruggles’ next assignment saw her as deputy to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, leading Rice’s Washington office. In 2011, when she went to Cape Town, South Africa, as consul general. Her husband filled a similar role in Durban, South Africa.
Barks-Ruggles speaks French and Norwegian.
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