Selkirk College Student Fights for International Justice in The Hague
Karen Godbout’s motivation to apply her learning to help make a difference internationally was spurred by a Peace Studies lecture delivered by former Selkirk College instructor Myler Wilkinson.
“There is a tendency to think that people who go to work for the United Nations or become leaders of movements in a more international context are somehow extraordinary,” says Godbout. “Myler’s message in this one lecture was that these are ordinary people who are bothered to apply and put themselves out there to accomplish it. That meant something to me.”
At the beginning of March, Godbout began an internship with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands. A student in the Selkirk College Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Bachelor’s Degree Program, over the next six months she will work in the imagery unit that is part of the ICC’s Forensic Science Section to help investigate some of the world’s most horrific international violations that include genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression.
As a GIS analyst, Godbout is using the education and skills acquired at Selkirk College to prepare maps using techniques such as 3D modeling and imaging.
“Visual representation is really important when they are putting together evidence, some of it may be used should these cases go to trial,” says Godbout. “Witness or victim testimony might be the only evidence there is, so connecting where something happened with their stories and finding the spot on the map is an important piece. You are able to put together the story and collect more detail to help figure out what actually happened.”
The ICC was created in 1998 when 60 states signed onto the world’s first permanent international criminal court. It was officially established in 2002 in order to participate in the global fight to end impunity, and through international criminal justice, aims to hold those responsible accountable for their crimes. The ultimate goal is to help prevent these crimes from happening again. It cooperates with the United Nations, but remains independent. To date, 39 individuals have been indicted by the ICC including Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Unusual Pathway Leads to Dream Placement
Godbout grew up in Winfield and by high school was heavily influenced by what she saw taking place in the world during the 1980s, like South African apartheid and the unending tension of the Cold War. Though social justice issues were always in the back of her mind, when Godbout graduated from high school she decided to pursue her creative passion at the Emily Carr University of Art+Design. A “proud art school drop-out,” she then completed a Library Technician Diploma and went to work amongst the stacks in Vancouver and Prince George.
A job opening at Selkirk College in 2003 brought Godbout to the West Kootenay for the first time and she immediately fell in love with the community. While working at the Castlegar Campus Library, Godbout continued to satisfy her thirst for learning by getting involved in the Selkirk College Mir Centre for Peace and taking classes in the Peace Studies Program.
In what she describes as a mid-life crisis, in 2016 Godbout decided to head back to class full-time to complete her degree. With an eye on working internationally in an area that took on social justice issues, she chose the GIS Bachelor’s Degree Program because it was close to home and she knew the education could apply to many facets of her ultimate goal.
“It’s been really restorative,” says the 47-year-old who will complete her degree this April while simultaneously participating in her internship. “I’m really excited about what is possible with GIS, you can put anything that is happening on the earth and adapt it to find a real cool usefulness.”
Though most students in the GIS Bachelor’s Degree Program traditionally enter through backgrounds in two-year programs such as the Forest Technology Program, Integrated Environmental Planning Program or the Recreation, Fish & Wildlife Program, Godbout’s eclectic education focused on art and the humanities has not presented an obstacle to her learning. She is a solid student who has spent time as a co-op student with the Selkirk Geospatial Research Centre (SGRC) working on the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant that is involved in the Open Data for Open Government in Rural BC project.
“Who would have known that my really scattered interests, education and experience would have come together and actually be ideal for something,” says Godbout.
A Major Step Towards an Ultimate Goal
The internship with the ICC came together rather quickly. Even prior to returning to class full-time, Godbout did research on opportunities that may exist within the organization. She found a posting prior to Christmas and applied for the internship. When she didn’t hear back by the end of January, Godbout figured she missed her chance. That’s when an email arrived in early-February.
“My heart was pounding before I even opened the email,” she says. “You hear about people screaming when they get an offer like this… well, I really did scream when I got the offer.”
Before she accepted the unpaid internship, Godbout needed to clear two major hurdles—finances and blessings from her instructors. In terms of making it work financially, Godbout and her husband funnelled cash from a planned home renovation project into furthering her education overseas. When it came to support from faculty and the Selkirk College School of Environment & Geomatics, she found equally enthusiastic response to assist in making the internship happen.
“Being a smaller institution, everybody has been so accommodating,” says Godbout. “You really get to know your instructors as people and I feel their shared enthusiasm for this opportunity that I have.”
The work Godbout is doing with the ICC has serious overtones that are heavy and heartbreaking. Though working in the details can be dark, the end goal fuels her passion.
“Throughout my education, I gave some presentations about this kind of work and felt guilty about my enthusiasm because it seems kind of wrong that you would be presenting on topics like this,” she says. “My interest is in the science of it and my interest is in the legal aspect, I really believe that it’s important for justice to be done. That outweighs the idea that you are involved in something that has real tragic outcomes.”
Upon completion of her internship, Godbout hopes to have made enough of an impression to continue working in GIS at the international level where her education and training at Selkirk College has given her the tools to help make a difference.