A pan-Canadian partnership which includes a Western Law professor and students, and which has been helping victims of international human rights violations, has been honoured with the 2022 Partnership Award by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
The Canadian Partnership for International Justice (CPIJ) includes professor Valerie Oosterveld and 31 students from Western, in addition to 24 researchers from seven other universities, four university-based legal clinics and three non-governmental organizations.
CPIJ aims to strengthen access to justice for victims of international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It is funded by SSHRC. Since its inception in 2016, it has worked to promote access to justice for victims of serious human rights violations. The partnership has organized more than 60 events and produced more than 200 scholarly texts that have been translated in several languages.
“The partnership has been central to advancing my work on the investigation and prosecution by international courts and tribunals of sexual and gender-based crimes. It’s an honour to have our partnership receive this award,” said Oosterveld.
Another goal of the partnership was to train the next generation of law students on issues of international crimes and justice.
In 2015, Oosterveld was approached by Université Laval’s professor Fannie Lafontaine about gathering Canadian scholars and members of civil society to enhance the work they were already doing on promoting access to justice for victims of international crimes, and to collaborate on new projects.
Led by Lafontaine, CPIJ has worked to address violent crises to prevent atrocities, punish perpetrators, reconcile victims and perpetrators, and identify the root causes of these crises in order to achieve stable peace.
“From 2016 to 2019, I helped to train a number of students, including Western Law students, in international criminal law advocacy during their attendance at the International Criminal Court’s annual meeting of supporter countries called the Assembly of States Parties,” said Oosterveld.
A highlight for Oosterveld was her February appearance before the International Criminal Court’s Appeals Chamber as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in a case against a senior commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group who is appealing 61 charges of war crimes committed in Northern Uganda between 2002 and 2005. A large number of those charges were for sexual and gender-based violence.
In 2022, her co-edited book, Gender and International Criminal Law, was published by Cambridge University Press.
“In the immediate term, there is much work to do to support those investigating gender-related crimes in the conflict in Ukraine and to ensure a consistent and victim-centered international approach to the investigation and prosecution of conflict-related sexual violence, wherever it occurs,” said Oosterveld.
Through CPIJ, Oosterveld also worked with 23 Western Law students on two projects for UN Women, the entity within the United Nations devoted to gender equality and women’s human rights.
Conducted from 2020 through 2022, the resulting work was used within UN Women to brief UN Security Council members during their deliberations on resolutions related to conflicts in South Sudan and Yemen.
The students’ report on gender-sensitive legislative reform in post-conflict countries is being published by UN Women.
“Having Western Law students involved in the partnership was absolutely key to its success. They brought enthusiasm, energy and new ideas to the table, and it was a pleasure involving them in the CPIJ’s research and advocacy work,” said Oosterveld.
Francesca Sgambelluri is a Western Law student involved in the projects for UN Women. She said she’s grateful to have had the opportunity to be involved with such an influential organization.
“Gender inequality, sexual and gender-based violence has and continues to influence the lives of women, girls and LGBTIQ+ individuals on a daily basis,” said Sgambelluri.
“Having the opportunity to volunteer with UN Women has allowed me to better understand these ongoing issues on an international scale while also greatly refining my research skills.”
The SSHRC Partnership Award is one of five SSHRC Impact Awards which recognize the achievements of Canada’s top researchers in social sciences and humanities.