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Events over the past week have offered a sobering reminder of the risks to journalists around the world. They started with the murder of James Foley in Syria, the video of which closed with a threat to the life of fellow journalist and hostage, Steven Sotloff. Our spirits were raised somewhat yesterday with the news that Theo Curtis, held since 2012 by Al Nusra, had been freed. But scores of other journalists remain captives around the world; in the last year alone, there has been a 129 per cent increase in the number of journalists kidnapped worldwide.

Security risks for journalists

The latest figures from Reporters Without Borders show the whole picture of violence and security risks facing journalists. This is what 2013 looked like globally:

  • 71 journalists were killed
  • 826 journalists were arrested
  • 2160 journalists were threatened or physically attacked
  • 87 journalists were kidnapped
  • 77 journalists fled their country
  • 6 media assistants were killed
  • 39 netizens and citizen-journalists were killed
  • 127 bloggers and netizens were arrested
  • 178 journalists are held in prison

The regions with the most number of journalists killed in connection with their work were Asia (24) and the Middle East and North Africa (23). 39 per cent of these deaths occurred in conflict zones – Syria, Somalia, Mali, the Indian province of Chhattisgah, the Pakistani province of Balochistan and the Russian republic of Dagestan.

The five deadliest countries for the media were Syria, Somalia, Pakistan, India and the Philippines.

The overwhelming majority of victims were men (96%) and there was an even spread between print, radio and TV journalists.

Security risks for aid workers

Journalists are not alone in facing a sharp rise in security risks around the world. Last week, Humanitarian Outcomes published its annual Aid Worker Security Report. It made for sobering reading; 2013 set a new record for violence against civilian aid workers, with 251 separate attacks affecting 460 aid workers.  This is what 2013 looked like for the humanitarian community:

  • 155 aid workers were killed
  • 171 aid workers were seriously wounded
  • 134 aid workers were kidnapped

Like journalists, the threat to aid workers is increasing at an alarming rate; in the decade since 2003, the number of aid workers killed has increased by 78 per cent, injured by 249 per cent, and the number kidnapped has grown by a staggering 1814 per cent from 7 to 134 last year.

Violence against aid workers occurred in 30 countries, but three quarters of all attacks took place in just five settings: Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan, Pakistan, and Sudan. Somalia finds itself outside the top five for the first time in many years, but the reduction of incidents in the country is a result not of growing stability, but because the situation has become so bad. 2013 saw the wholesale withdrawal of Medicins Sans Frontieres from Somalia after 22 years of operating there.

Most victims (87 per cent) were local staffers, but international personnel who account for approximately 8 per cent of humanitarian staff in the field were overrepresented as 13 per cent of victims.

The security challenge for media and aid organisations

It is obvious that journalists and aid workers – who for many years enjoyed safe passage through conflict zones – no longer enjoy these privileges in some places. The people of countries, such as Syria, Pakistan and South Sudan need their help more than ever, but they are less able to perform their vital roles.

It is imperative that organisations sending local or international staff and freelancers to such places enact the necessary security measures needed to keep their people as safe as possible. Reporters Without Borders is lobbying the UN to amend Article 8 of the International Criminal Court’s statute amended so that “deliberate attacks on journalists, media workers and associated personnel” are defined as war crimes. And when – inevitably – things do go wrong, it is vital that victims and their families and colleagues get the practical and psychological support they need to respond to what has happened.

 

 

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On Tuesday, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) turns 50. Formed by Pedro Antonio Marin Marin aka Marulanda on 27 May 1964, they have been embroiled in one of South America’s deadliest battles for control of the land, the people, and the soul of the great country of Colombia.

For decades they have claimed the title of ‘revolutionaries’, fighting for the common man and woman. In reality, they have brought terror and violence to a country that, given its natural resources, should be the success story of the continent.

I have been interested in the FARC for 18 years, ever since my uncle was kidnapped on a road between Medellin and Bogota on his way to work in January 1996. It wasn’t the FARC that held him for 7.5 months, but the ELN, or National Liberation Army. But in the years that have followed, I have interviewed many surviving hostages who were held by the FARC. From what I could tell of their testimony, the FARC was willing to use torture to control the minds and bodies of their captives, more cruelly than anything I ever heard from those who had been held by the ELN.

As the FARC prepares for its birthday party, it will not be the only one wondering if life really does begin at 50. The peace process continues in Cuba, with more optimism than has shrouded the ones that preceded it, but still caution is still the order of the day. Literally billions of US dollars and tens of thousands of boots on the ground have failed to kill off the FARC. Its grip remains on certain parts of the country. It can no longer boast 20,000 members, but it is estimated to be 7,000 strong and enjoy the support of those who rely on it for their protection and livelihood.

The results of today’s Presidential election might have a bearing on whether Tuesday should be a party or a wake for the FARC. President Santos hopes to stay in office and continue the peace talks. His main opponent, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga has threatened to pull the plug on the talks, or at least impose conditions that would render then untenable.

Colombia – yet again – finds itself at a crossroads. And, as usual, peace doesn’t look like the most likely destination.

My interest in security was sparked when I was at university and my beloved uncle Phil was kidnapped in Colombia. Suddenly, I was thrust into a world of private security companies and response consultants, and felt like an extra on a Hollywood movie set. It led me to ask a few basic questions: who had taken him? Why would they want him? How would we get him back? And, importantly, what could be done to help others who might suffer the same anguish as his family did for 7 long months?

I now dedicate part of my life to the final challenge – running a small charity called Hostage UK, which supports the families of hostages during a kidnap and the family and hostage post-release. We offer pastoral care, put the families in touch with others who have been through the same experience, provide them with any professional support they might need, and offer advice and guidance on how best they can cope with their experience.

When I am not running Hostage UK, I am Research and Policy Director at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. There, I oversee our work on extremism and counter-terrorism, where – amongst other things – we have recently launched the Against Violent Extremism Network (AVE) to bring together former extremists with the survivors of violent extremist attacks to work to counter radicalization and help reintegrate extremists looking to leave their movements.

I have been reflecting on where these two worlds collide, and it strikes me that there are lessons to be learned from the reintegration of hostages and former extremists back into their family environments. I am not seeking to make light of the experiences of hostages, or draw parallels between their suffering and the choices of extremists. But if we look at the specific challenge of reintegration, there are some parallels. Here are five lessons that those looking to reintegrate former extremists could learn from our work at Hostage UK.

First, both the hostage and the family experience extreme forms of trauma. Hostages always say that their family experiences more stress than they do, because they always have the luxury of knowing whether they are alive or dead. When the hostage is released, the family is often not in a position to support fully, because they are in need of support themselves.

Second, the hostage and the family go through different experiences, and this can mean that they feel estranged from one another when the hostage returns.

Third, while the hostage has been away, the family has inevitably moved on. It is so often the main breadwinner who has been taken, and in their absence their wife (it is usually a female partner at home) has assumed the position of head of household, taken on responsibility for finances, and usurped the hostage’s role within the family. This can make reintegration difficult, as the hostage will not be able simply to slot back in and might feel excluded. It is mainly for this reason that there can be higher than average incidences of divorce post-release.

Fourth, the hostage may have experienced things during their captivity that they do not wish to share with their families due to a sense of shame and an inability to communicate. This only increases the sense of division between them and their family members.

Fifth, there is so often a reluctance on the part of both the former hostage and their family to accept that they might need help and support.

Applying these lessons across former hostages and former extremists may not be entirely intuitive. But it is vital to acknowledge that extremism – like kidnapping – is a human crime with a human solution, of which families must be a part. It is vital that these lessons are learned.

For more information about Hostage UK, visit our website.

There is a great piece in today’s Telegraph magazine on the rise of piracy and kidnapping off the coast of Somalia. 

It states that:

  • Piracy and kidnapping have risen: International Maritime Bureau statistics show that in 2006 there were 10 attacks (5 success hijacks) but by 2008 there were 111 attacks and 42 hijacks. In 2010 there were 219 attacks and 49 ships were hijacked.  
  • Concerted efforts are having an impact: there were just 25 successful hijacks. The British Royal Navy estimates that 30 per cent of the vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden have armed security on board, and no ships with armed guards have yet been successfully attacked. 
  • In 2012 so far there have been 4 ships hijacked and Somali pirates are currently holding 8 ships and 200 hostages. 
  • Piracy is a lucrative business: according to Oceans Beyond Piracy, the shipping industry paid Somali pirates $160 million in ransoms in 2011, with the average being $5 million. 
  • However, piracy is also costly for those involved: it has been estimated that it costs $25,000 to equip a pirate boat, which means it is now a well organised business on the whole. 
  • About 2.7 million square miles of Indian Ocean are vulnerable to pirates. With the number of vessels patrolling to protect the area, it is the equivalent of having 10 police cars monitoring the whole of Western Europe. 
  • The most notable British cases in recent years involving these pirate groups are Judith Tebbutt who was taken from Kenya and released in March 2012 and Paul and Rachel Chandler who were taken in October 2009 and held for 388 days.

It is sad to hear the news that a British woman has been kidnapped in Kenya. Her husband was killed, before she was taken away over the weekend. There are unconfirmed reports that the couple are David and Judith Tebbutt, but the UK Foreign Office has not released the victims’ names. They were staying at the Kiwayu Safari village in Kenya, located near the border with Somali. It is not yet known whether the motives for the kidnapping are financial or political.

This case reminds us that the threat from kidnapping continues. There is no complete data set to show the number of Britons who are kidnapped each year. The Foreign Office records cases it works on or is aware of, but this is thought to account for a small minority of cases. This is because they do not tend to be involved where the motive is financial – the bulk of kidnaps – because they cannot pay a ransom and the cases are therefore handled privately. These cases also tend to remain out of the spotlight because it is important to downplay the ‘value’ of the hostage in order to secure a swift and safe release.

The absence of a dataset is a real problem – it means we don’t really know the scale of the threat, how it has changed, or where it might develop next. Hostage UK has been looking to bring together data from official sources and private security companies. But until that is possible, we really don’t know as much as we should do about this terrible crime.

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