SAN ANSELMO, California- The United Nations Security Council has passed a resolution that urges nations to stop paying ransoms to and terrorist organizations for kidnapped nationals. Countries are already not obligated to pay kidnapping ransoms, stemming from a 2001 resolution, but the 2014 resolution is intended to put added pressure on governments to stop paying the large sums.
British U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant asserts that groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and other extremist organizations have gotten over $105 million from kidnappings. The United States estimates that the amount for the past decade is about $120 million, while other groups put the number between $90 million and $150 million.
Pirates in Somalia also make tens of millions of dollars from international ransoms by boarding ships in the Indian Ocean and holding hostages until their requests are paid in full.
Grant explains the necessity to stop payments, stating, “It is therefore imperative that we take steps to ensure that kidnap for ransom is no longer perceived as a lucrative business model and that we eliminate it as a source of terrorist financing.”
American Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power asserts, “Hostage takers looking for ransoms distinguish between those governments that pay ransoms and those that do not – and that they make a point of not taking hostages from those countries that refuse to make concessions.”
She further states that every ransom that extremist organizations receive emboldens them to continue kidnapping foreign nationals.
The U.N. resolution suggests governments should not perform any action that benefits terrorist organizations financially or politically. It states that securing the release of those kidnapped should be undertaken by the private sector, which should use best practices so as not to encourage hostages to be taken in the future.
The U.S., the United Kingdom and Algeria have been staunch supporters of not negotiating with terrorist groups, but other nations have been accused of paying ransoms.
French President Francois Hollande states that his government has stopped paying ransoms, but in 2013, a former U.S. diplomat accused the French government of paying a $17 million ransom for the (unsuccessful) release of three hostages in Niger. The government denies the allegations, but it has become a point of tension between the two nations.
Supporting American claims, Reuters was given a confidential Nigerian government document showing that Nigerian militant group Boko Haram was given $3.15 million by French and Cameroonian negotiators for the release of seven French hostages in 2013.
Infamous Islamist general Oumar Ould Hamaha boasts about the complicity of western governments in international kidnappings. He states, “Lots of Western countries are paying enormous sums to the jihadists. The source of our financing is the Western countries. They are paying for jihad.”
And the price for an international ransom is growing. In 2010, the average ransom amount was $4.5 million, but that number had grown to $5.4 million by 2011.
Because many governments do not pay ransoms, a company working overseas can purchase kidnap and ransom insurance for its employees that will hypothetically cover the costs of a negotiated ransom. If a person is kidnapped abroad, the company contacts a crisis management team who negotiates a sum and ideally secures the safe release of hostages.
The realities of kidnap and ransom insurance are, however, more complicated. Employees generally are not allowed to know that they are covered under this insurance, and if they do, the protection can be withdrawn. Coverage can also be voided if the insurance company is not notified right away of the kidnapping or if the kidnapping takes place in an area under an advisory by the State Department.
Forbes explains, “It sets you up for the prospect of being covered by insurance you don’t know you have, for claims for which you can’t give notice and of having to fight over its applicability when you need it most.”
However, Forbes concludes, “…if you really are subject to the risks it is designed to cover, the only thing worse than owning such problematic protection may be not owning it.”
– Kaylie Cordingley
Sources: Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, New York Times, Forbes
Photo: The Times