By Alexia Loumankis
On Thursday, November 12, 2015, an eager group of students, faculty, and librarians gathered to hear alumna Professor Valerie Oosterveld speak at the John and Mary Yaremko Forum in Multiculturalism and Human Rights. This year’s forum honoured the 20th anniversary of the Women’s Human Rights Resources Programme.
The Women’s Human Rights Resources Programme (WHRR) collects, organizes, and disseminates information on women’s human rights law to facilitate research, teaching, and collaboration. The website was created in 1995 by Professor Rebecca Cook and Ann Rae, former Chief Librarian of the Bora Laskin Law Library, and was based on “A Select Bibliography of Women’s Human Rights” published in the April 1995 edition of the America University Law Review by Professor Cook and then-student Valerie Oosterveld.
The forum began with Susan Barker, Digital Services and Reference Librarian, Bora Laskin Law Library, and current manager of the website, who has worked with the WHRR site since its inception. Susan spoke of the history of the WHRR and thanked its dedicated volunteer contributors over the years: students at the Faculty, as well as alumni and community members. Susan also spoke of the site’s global reach as the site is regularly visited by people from around the world.
Professor Cook then spoke of the importance of the WHRR before introducing Professor Valerie Oosterveld. Professor Oosterveld is the Associate Dean at the University of Western Ontario’s Faculty of Law. Professor Oosterveld’s research focuses on gender issues within international criminal justice. Professor Oosterveld previously served in the Legal Affairs Bureau of Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade by providing legal advice on international criminal accountability for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, especially with respect to international criminal courts.
Professor Oosterveld gave an engaging and informative speech titled “Women’s Human Rights in International Criminal Tribunals: The Real Story.” She spoke of the kinds of sexual and gender-based crimes that are committed during armed conflict, including forced marriage, rape, and sexual slavery, and how proceedings at the international criminal tribunals have uncovered previously misunderstood patterns and motivations for them. She also spoke of the growing acceptance of these crimes as discrete crimes that should and can be prosecuted and not as unfortunate consequences of conflict.
While Professor Oosterveld spoke of the difficulties international criminal courts have in prosecuting sexual and gender-based crimes, for example, how to agree upon a single definition of rape in international criminal law given the variety of jurisdictions’ domestic definitions, she also spoke of the strides these courts have taken in recent years. In June 2014, the International Criminal Court (ICC) published their “Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes.” This policy paper has reinforced the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor’s commitment to integrating a gender perspective and analysis into all of its work and paying particular attention to sexual and gender-based crimes in line with statutory provisions.
After a lively question and answer period, the forum concluded with a wine and cheese reception.