Valerie Oosterveld before International Criminal Court in case involving gender-based war crimes

Oosterveld appeared as friend of the court before the ICC on behalf of eight other feminist lawyers

Valerie Oosterveld before International Criminal Court in case involving gender-based war crimes
Valerie Oosterveld is a professor at the Western University Faculty of Law

Western University law professor Valerie Oosterveld recently appeared before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, to present amicus curiae (friend of the court) arguments in the case of Prosecutor v. Ongwen. Dominic Ongwen was Brigade Commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that waged a war of attrition against the government and peoples of Uganda and nearby countries since the late 1980s.

Ongwen was convicted of crimes against humanity for creating, using, and enforcing a system of forced marriage, becoming the first accused at the ICC to be convicted of the crime. The ICC sentenced Ongwen to 25 years of imprisonment. However, his case is now on appeal.

Oosterveld appeared as an amicus at the ICC on behalf of eight other feminist lawyers from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Nigeria, and the United States who submitted a brief and were selected to present oral submissions.

Oosterveld’s research focuses on gender issues within international criminal justice, including the concept of gender in international criminal law and the interpretation of sexual and gender-based crimes by the international criminal courts and tribunals.

“When I stood up in front of the judges, it felt like my career had come full circle,” said Oosterveld. “In 1998 I served on the Canadian delegation to draft the gender provisions in the Rome Statute of the ICC, the court’s founding treaty. I then joined the then-Department of Foreign Affairs, working on behalf of my country to make the ICC a reality.” She added that “it was an honour to work with a team of dedicated feminist academics and advocates to present submissions on an act - forced marriage - which deserves a deeper understanding in international criminal law.”

In 2021, Ongwen was found guilty of 61 charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Northern Uganda between 2002 and 2005. Many of those charges were for sexual and gender-based violence.

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is alleged to have systematically abducted young women and girls between the ages of 10 and 18 and assigned them as ‘wives’ to male LRA fighters. The girls and women were expected to provide sex on demand, cook, clean, and do whatever their ‘husbands’ requested. As a result, many became pregnant and had children.

The Trial Chamber found that at least 100 abducted girls and women were forced to serve as ‘wives’ in Ongwen’s Sinia Brigade at the time of his indictment.

Oosterveld is a Canadian Partnership for International Justice member, funded by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. She is the Associate Director of Western University’s Centre for Transitional Justice and Post-Conflict Reconstruction and served as an Associate Dean at Western Law from 2014-2018.

Oosterveld is a member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists and was awarded Western University’s Faculty Scholar designation from 2017-2019.

Before joining Western University Faculty of Law in 2005, Oosterveld served in the Legal Affairs Bureau of Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, where she provided legal advice on international criminal accountability for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, especially concerning the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. In addition, she served on the Canadian delegation to various ICC-related negotiations, including the Assembly of States Parties. 

In 2010, she served on the Canadian delegation to the Review Conference of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in Kampala, Uganda.

Oosterveld expects to be in The Hague again in the coming months, including for the launch of her new co-edited collection, Gender and International Criminal Law.

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