Landscape photo of Dr. Mark Gersten

Photo Credit: Dhoui Chang

Mark Kersten is a Fellow, researcher, and consultant based in the Trudeau Centre for Peace, Conflict and Justice at the Munk School of Global Affairs, as well as the Deputy Director of the Wayamo Foundation.

Mark’s research and work focuses on: the investigation and prosecution of international crimes; mass atrocity responses and prevention; the effects of judicial interventions by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on conflict, peace, and justice processes; capacity-building and domestic accountability for international crimes; and the nexus between mass atrocities and transnational organized crimes.


Tell us about yourself.

I’m a fellow and lecturer based in the Trudeau Centre for Peace, Conflict and Justice at the Munk School of Global Affairs. I am also the Deputy Director of the Wayamo Foundation, an organization that advocates for justice and accountability for international crimes as well as transnational organized crimes. We are deeply involved in capacity building to ensure that more domestic judiciaries are able to investigate and prosecute these crimes themselves, rather than always relying on international organizations or international courts to do so. We also aim to improve accessibility and understanding of international criminal justice so that journalists, students, and interest observers can understand what’s at stake with regards to the prosecution of war crimes or crimes against humanity as well as transnational organized crimes like human, drug, and wildlife trafficking.


What past experiences led you to the Munk School of Global Affairs?

For the last few years, I have been working for the Wayamo Foundation and doing research into various topics all generally relating to international criminal justice. I continue to do research and write papers, as well as doing policy-oriented work. When I was completing my PhD thesis at the London School of Economics, I very much wanted to explore being back home in Canada, being closer to my family, as well as engaging some of the practitioner and academic communities in Canada on issues of justice and accountability for human rights violations and international crimes. The Munk School of Global Affairs seemed like a terrific, dynamic place so I came here initially on a two-year fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. I had two years to do research independently and engage with people here. In September, I became a Munk School Fellow. It all worked out brilliantly; I get to work with people that I like, live in a phenomenal city, engage in a terrific academic community, teach wonderful students, and be close to family and friends in Canada.


What are your current research interests?

A lot of my research is focused on the relationship between pursuing international criminal justice and resolving violent political conflicts through peaceful means. I am in the midst of writing various papers on the relationship between transnational organized crimes and international crimes which explore how rebel groups, as well as different government and terrorist groups, often engage in transnational organized crimes of various types at the exact same time as they are committing mass atrocities. The paper is called “This Mass Atrocity has been Brought to You by the Ivory Trade” to make the point that the illegal wildlife trade often allows rebel groups to gain a monetary advantage which can be used to buy guns and allows them to commit mass atrocities. While it is not that causal in reality, I am very interested in thinking about those issues and whether in some instances it might be better to target these actors for transnational organized crime and disrupt their marketplaces, rather than try to prosecute them for war crimes or crimes against humanity, which is often difficult and onerous exercise.


What is the most interesting fact you have uncovered in your research?

I am fascinated by some of the stories behind how individuals who have been indicted by an international court actually end up at the International Criminal Court. A lot of these stories don’t tend to be covered because it is diplomatically sensitive work to get an individual targeted by the International Criminal Court to the ICC. For example, Bosco Ntaganda, known as “the Terminator”, was wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity being perpetrated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the alleged support of the Government of Rwanda during the M23 Rebellion. In a remarkable series of circumstances, which still haven’t been fully clarified, one day, Ntaganda walked into the American embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, waited in line at the immigration booth, and asked the US embassy staff to be surrendered to the International Criminal Court, of which the United States is not a member. Despite threats from the Rwandan government, who feared him speaking directly to the alleged relationship between the Rwandan government and the rebellion in the eastern DRC, they managed to get him to the airport and to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he faces trial today.


What are you most looking forward to in teaching PCJ460 and PCJ461?

I think there is something special about being a student, in the sense that students are so deeply engaged in thinking through assumptions and learning so much new information; the intellectual energy is infectious. As a teacher, a lot of that passion and inquisitiveness that the students have rubs off on you. It’s just a pleasure to be around students in general. It’s also a real opportunity for me to take the work I do, both in research and in practice, and present it in a way that is accessible to students. I have always been committed to trying to make the complexity of international criminal justice or conflict and peace studies or the relationship between justice and peace decipherable so that people can understand what the issues are and what is at stake.


What advice would you give a student studying Peace, Conflict & Justice Studies?

I tell my students that the subjects of peace, conflict, and justice inspire a lot of emotional responses. These are topics that have a lot of normative baggage associated with them; people feel very strongly about what should or should not happen. I think the key for students, as well as researchers, studying these topics is to try to be as dispassionate as possible and to understand the reasons why things function as they do and to hold your emotional responses in check. Trying to understand why violence is expressed without bringing in that emotional element may even help to improve the chances that it won’t erupt in the future because you understand the logic of conflict, the logic of justice, and the logic of peace as well.



Read more about Dr. Mark Kersten in the most recent edition of Munk School Meets