Inside USD

Alumna Seeks Justice For All

Monday, April 13, 2009

From a young age, Kirsten Bowman knew she wanted a career helping others, but she had no idea what it would be. Her time as a student at the University of San Diego helped her hone in on specifics.

“I was certain I’d serve the public in some way. I got that during my time here through participating in community service,” she recalled. “I went in as a business major and I got out of San Diego as a sociology major.” Bowman graduated in 1996 with a minor in gender studies.

Thirteen years later, she has a career in helping people around the world navigate the legal process.

Bowman was the featured speaker for the 13th annual Sister Sally Furay Lecture on March 31.Co-sponsored by USD’s Trans-Border Institute, the Social Issues Committee and the School of Law, the event is named for Furay, a USD law graduate, professor, dean and provost who first arrived on campus in 1952. Furay also helped get TBI established on campus in 1994.

Bowman’s speech centered on the ethical dilemmas of international criminal justice, an area in which she’s gained considerable expertise through her work with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

After leaving USD, Bowman earned a law degree in 2005, specializing in international law. She went to work for the ICTR in the prosecutor’s office and has served as a legal advisor at the ICC. She has recently worked for ICC Vice President Judge Rene Blattman, who is hearing a case before the ICC involving Thomas Lubanga Dyilo of the Democratic Republic of Congo and human right violations. The case is on hold, enabling Bowman to temporarily work on other projects with the ICTR in Africa until it resumes.

While her job enables her to work on cases pertaining to human rights violations, Bowman says one of her main focuses is to ensure that the affected as well as the accused get a fair trial.

“Justice will only happen for victims when the rules for the accused are also upheld,” she said.

Bowman discussed several issues pertaining to international justice, but offered the disclaimer that she could not speak about any current cases and that anything she did speak about could not be attributed to the United Nations or ICC.

Following a brief history of the ICC and other branches, she spoke about self-referrals, in which the international court takes on cases during an ongoing conflict for the purpose of establishing an international court and dealing with pressure from the international community.

One of the tougher dilemmas raised was the court’s duty to the victim and the role of forgiveness.

“Does a truth and reconciliation commission serve people better than a long court case?” Bowman asked.

She pointed to two cases with differing opinions on the court’s involvement: “In the Balkan Islands, they’re still angry; but in Rwanda they feel they need to move on, move forward. They’re ready for the court to close. It depends on the community; in some cases you’re forcing them to relive it. And, because some of these acts took place so many years ago, people accuse you of reopening old wounds.”

Bowman’s job certainly isn’t easy, but she finds chance to be so closely involved in the international legal process extremely fulfilling. When asked what advice she’d give to USD students, she said they should focus on something that brings out their passion.

“I’d tell (them) to do a lot of internships, volunteer and do as much as you can. Get out there and get experience, even if you have to apply for funding. Do it,” Bowman said.

— Ryan T. Blystone

To read more about Kirsten Bowman, who was featured in the Spring 2009 USD Magazine, go here.

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