Uncoordinated International Ban on Terrorist Kidnap-for-Ransom Demands Leaves Citizens at Greater Risk

Key points

  • Despite a UN ban, there is no international consensus on the non-payment of terrorist-related ransoms
  • The lack of a unified approach puts the lives of citizens of all nationalities at greater risk, and allows terrorist groups to secure supernormal ransoms, boosting their ability to mount attacks and conduct further kidnappings
  • A new approach is needed to ‘close the gap between those who uphold their obligation not to pay ransoms to terrorists and those who do not.’

The uncoordinated international ban on the payment of kidnap ransoms to terrorist groups could prove to be counter-productive and leave citizens at greater risk, argues a new RUSI report.

Published by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the report highlights how there is a wide gap between those countries who abide by UN Security Council Resolutions and do not pay kidnap ransoms to terrorist groups under any circumstances, and those countries who ‘prioritise the immediate preservation of life over their counterterrorism commitments.’

As such, the status quo ‘increases the returns from kidnapping for groups designated as terrorist organisations by the UN and increases the terrorist threat to citizens of all states.’

‘When some governments negotiate on behalf of their citizens, kidnapper expectations and ransoms escalate. Terrorists abuse hostages whose governments refuse to negotiate in order to raise the pressure on countries which do. Because of the official ban, government negotiations are conducted in secret. This makes it more difficult to share information that might assist negotiation strategies, help track the money and identify the perpetrators after ransoms are paid.’

Entitled ‘Closing the Gap: Assessing Responses to Terrorist-Related Kidnap-for-Ransom’, the paper is written by Anja Shortland, Reader in Political Economy at King’s College London and Tom Keatinge, Director of RUSI’s Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies.

The paper offers three approaches to improve the current situation:

1. Consensus for a Universally Observed Ban

A global, rigorously applied and scrupulously monitored commitment to prevent any concessions to terrorist organisations. This would eliminate hostage-taking as a source of terrorist finance, although terrorists might still kidnap for propaganda purposes. However, the paper shows that the international community remains polarised and is not ready to commit to enforcing such a ban.

2. Resolve Privately, No Government Involvement

Governments exit from the market for hostage negotiations and decriminalise private resolutions of terrorist hostage incidents. The insurance sector already offers effective solutions for the prevention and resolution of criminal kidnappings. These solutions would become available for those exposed to the risk of terrorist kidnap.

3. A New Framework That Manages Divergent Approaches

A new policy framework modelled on existing private sector solutions. Private entities would be allowed to make financial concessions, but governments would create effective (multilateral) institutions to monitor and minimise such payments.

Anja Shortland states: ‘The negative unintended consequences of the status quo are clear. A partially applied ban, where some governments make concessions to terrorists and negotiate on behalf of their citizens leads to a rise in kidnapper expectations and an escalation of ransom demands.’

Tom Keatinge further notes that: ‘The result of this uncoordinated response is that terrorist kidnappers abuse hostages whose governments refuse to negotiate in order to raise the pressure on countries which do.

Unless governments agree on a common response to terrorist-related kidnap-for-ransom, more citizens will be kidnapped, ever-higher ransoms will be demanded and paid and terrorists will continue to raise valuable funding to mount further attacks.’

NOTES TO EDITORS

  • The RUSI Occasional Paper, ‘Closing the Gap: Assessing Responses to Terrorist-Related Kidnap-for-Ransom’, is available at: https://RUSI.org/KfR-2017
  • The paper is written by Anja Shortland, Reader in Political Economy at King’s College London and Tom Keatinge, Director of RUSI’s Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies.
  • The report was made possible by an impact development grant from King’s College London.
  • RUSI is the world’s oldest independent defence and security think tank. Its mission is to inform, influence and enhance public debate on a safer and more stable world. RUSI is a research-led institute, producing independent, practical and innovative analysis to address today’s complex challenges.

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