Understanding the Complexities of Kidnap for Ransom

2016 Arella AmandaBy Amanda Arella

Shortly before leaving for my internship, I woke up to this headline: “Canada ‘does not and will not’ pay ransom to terrorists: Trudeau.” The renewed spotlight on Canada’s ransom stance was prompted the tragic death of John Ridsdel, who was beheaded by Abu Sayyaf militants in the Philippines after being held captive for seven months.

While reading this article, I was horrified and saddened by the fate of John Ridsdel. However, it was only after arriving in Colorado, and beginning an summer-long project researching kidnap for ransom in Somalia that I came to fully understand what is truly at stake in cases of kidnap for ransom, and its legal, political and humanitarian response.

Kidnap for ransom has been an area of growing concern on land and at sea, particularly in the last decade. In Somalia, 2,919 seafarers have been taking hostage between 2000 and 2013. Currently, there are 41 hostages still being held in Somalia, including 26 crewmembers of the FV Naham 3. At the time of writing this post, the crew of the FV Naham 3 has been held in captivity for 4 years and 124 days.

Kidnap for ransom complex, multi-faceted and emotionally charged topic. Central to any discussion of this issue is the visceral knowledge that a person’s life is at stake. Kidnapping violates the fundamental human rights of individual freedom and the right of movement. It has lasting physical, emotional and psychological impacts for victims and their families.

In addition to the devastating costs of kidnap for ransom for those whom it directly affects, we are becoming increasingly aware of global consequences of this crime. According to a report by the World Bank and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, ransom monies collected by Somali pirates are reinvested in criminal activities in the region, including human and drug trafficking, promoting instability in the region and undermining the rule of law. Outside of the Somali context, an investigate report by the New York Times found that “Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken in at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008”.

After spending eight weeks documenting instances of kidnap for ransom in Somalia, I am left with the understanding that there is no straightforward or definitive response to this issue. Instead, I have a deeper understanding of the experiences of those who are taken hostage, and the difficulty and uncertainty that accompanies hostage negotiations. So too do I appreciate the conditions of instability and extreme poverty which create the conditions for piracy and heighten instances of kidnap for ransom.

The work of Oceans Beyond Piracy, and the One Earth Future Foundation as a whole, demonstrates that in order to meaningfully address kidnap for ransom in the maritime sphere, our collective response to this issue must be approached from a number of different angles. Support must be provided to hostages and their families both during their time in captivity and after their release. Equally important, however, is creating economic opportunities ashore for the citizens of Somalia as an alternative livelihood to piracy.

Kidnap for ransom complex, multi-faceted and emotionally charged topic, and I have only offered a brief glimpse of this issue’s many layers. As we increase our understanding of the scope of this crime, and its underlying causes, we are better equipped to offer support to victims and create sustainable solutions.

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