Closing the Gap: Assessing Responses to Terrorist-Related Kidnap-for-Ransom

Authors: Anja Shortland and Tom Keatinge

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Governments continue to be concerned about kidnapping as a source of terrorist finance. A host of international commitments, underpinned by UN Security Council Resolutions and domestic laws, forbids the commercial resolution of terrorist-related kidnappings and prevents governments from making concessions to terrorists. Yet, it is also common knowledge that, in practice, the UN ban lacks the support of key signatories, who prioritise the immediate preservation of life over their counterterrorism commitments. The authors argue that the current approach increases the returns from kidnapping for groups designated as terrorist organisations by the UN (hereafter ‘designated terrorists’) and increases the terrorist threat to citizens of all states.

This paper highlights the negative unintended consequences of the status quo: a partially applied ban, where some governments make concessions to terrorists. 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.

This paper outlines three different options which would help to ‘close the gap’ between the commitments of some governments and their actions in response to the kidnapping of their citizens by designated terrorists.

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