For almost two decades, Valerie Oosterveld has dedicated her work to gender-sensitive criminal justice – first as a lawyer with the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and now, as an academic.
Oosterveld, associate dean in the Faculty of Law, along with 22 partners from across Ontario, was recently awarded a $2.5-million Partnership Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The project, which will run for the next five years, aims to strengthen justice for victims of international crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
“There is a mix of academic individuals and non-governmental organizations working together in ways we don’t always do,” she said. “To see such an interested cohort from across Canada, pursuing a holistic vision of international criminal justice, shows me those 20 years of work have been worthwhile,” she noted.
The overall goal for the project is to enhance Canada’s role as a global leader in the field of international justice through a criminal, civil law and administrative lens.
“Over the last 20 years, there has been a huge step forward in recognizing sexual and gender-based violence is a part of almost every conflict in the world. And there has been a huge step forward in the prosecution of sexual, gender-based violence, particularly rape and sexual slavery – but there is much more to do,” Oosterveld added.
The partnership is coordinating cutting-edge research to create knowledge about more effective ways to hold individual states and corporations accountable for international crimes.
“It’s exciting that those ‘working in the trenches’ are working directly with academics, and together, we are undertaking this research and policy oriented agenda,” she said.
Oosterveld’s role will be three-fold. First, she will look at best practices in international courts and domestic courts in the prosecution of sexual and gender-based crimes from every perspective, including the prosecutor’s, the defense, the victim’s and the judge’s and those who press for reparations, in order to collect best practices.
Second, she will track how the International Criminal Court is implementing its policy in the prosecutor’s office of addressing sexual and gender-based violence.
Finally, she will look at gender-based crimes that have not yet been prosecuted and identify opportunities for them to be addressed in court.
Other partners on the project will look at cooperation of states with the International Criminal Court, the participation of victims and other aspects of criminal responses.
“As we finish different parts of the project, we will be meeting with government officials to say, ‘Here is what we found and here’s our analysis,’ and then have a discussion with them about what might come next,” Oosterveld continued.
So far, the Canadian Delegation to the International Criminal Court -Assembly of States Parties has been very receptive to hearing suggestions on how challenging issues might be addressed and indicated they would like to continue working with the project.
“I think the door is open already,” she said.
One of the most exciting aspects for Oosterveld is the opportunity for students to get real-life experience in the field of international criminal justice.
Recently, students had the opportunity to attend a meeting in The Hague, The Netherlands with all of the countries bound by the International Criminal Court in attendance.
“Students got to see (in a sense) history in the making in that discussion,” Oosterveld said.
With South Africa, Burundi and Gambia recently announcing they were withdrawing from the International Criminal Court statute, there’s concern the court will be weakened.
“It’s helpful for Canadians to find out what’s going on there because it’s not easy to get access to these inside discussions,” she continued. “It’s exposing students to something they wouldn’t normally ever have a chance to be a part of. It’s really exciting.”
The goals for the project are complex, but that complexity will lead the team to success, Oosterveld hopes.
“I think we can push international criminal law even further, we can make it progress even more in ways that substantially benefit victims of genocide war crimes and crimes against humanity,” she said.