The increasing use of kidnapping by terrorist groups has led to debates between governments over the most appropriate strategies to deal with the problem – whether to pay or not to pay, whether to negotiate for release or to attempt a rescue.
Kidnap and ransom victims across the world can be targeted for a number of reasons, including their income, employer, nationality or line of work.
While many kidnappings are carried out by criminal groups, terrorist organizations are increasingly resorting to kidnapping and hostage-taking of tourists, journalists, foreign workers and diplomats, allowing them to grow, recruit and finance their operations.
An investigation published in July 2014 by the New York Times says that $91.5 million has been paid in ransoms to the North Africa-based Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb since 2008. The investigation was based on interviews with former hostages, negotiators, diplomats and government officials in ten countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
There’s evidence that the payment of ransoms incentivizes further kidnappings, so several States, including some OSCE States, have a policy of not paying ransoms.
Kidnapping is a difficult crime to deal with. As long as the perpetrators control a victim, they are able to deter law enforcement or military actions against them. The families of victims, going through a lot of stress and anxiety, may be able to bring pressure to bear on the authorities to ensure that their loved one is released. Businesses and NGOs may also be involved, with a responsibility towards the well-being of their staff held hostage.
While securing the return of hostages is often deeply symbolic, and certainly crucial to their families, payment in the context of any of these kidnap-based crimes helps to fuel the growing criminal markets in kidnapping for ransom. This is something that impacts the security of States and may put more people at risk of kidnapping if it proves lucrative.
Essentially, authorities must protect the right to life of hostages and strive to ensure they come to no harm. On the other hand, paying ransoms or offering other concessions fuels terrorism further.
In January 2014, the UN Security Council issued its first-ever resolution devoted specifically to kidnapping for ransom by terrorists, UNSCR 2133. The resolution, which calls for international co-operation to tackle this scourge, complements previous international conventions adopted under the UN.
Supporting OSCE participating States in building their capacity to tackle the problem of kidnapping for ransom has been a priority of the Swiss OSCE Chairmanship in 2014. The OSCE is working not only with participating States but also with its Mediterranean Partners for Co-operation on how to take preventative action to combat this problem in North Africa, the Sahel and the Mediterranean region.
Hear from Alexander Evans, Co-ordinator of the Al Qaeda Monitoring Team at the United Nations, and Thomas Wuchte, OSCE Head on Anti-Terrorism Issues on why States need to work together and take a co-ordinated approach in dealing with kidnapping for ransom.