While Colombia’s FARC rebel group has announced that it is abandoning its policy of kidnappings, other countries are facing increasing numbers of abductions. Nothing has been heard for some time from Dutch citizens kidnapped in Mali and in the Philippines. Just how big is the world’s kidnap industry and what can be done to combat it?
Kidnap expert Marianne Moor, from peace organisation IKV Pax Christi:
“Colombia could be called the mother of all countries when it comes to kidnapping. Gangs elsewhere in Latin America have copied Colombian methods and there are links between Colombian groups and others in Latin America. It’s going on, though, all over the world although there are no clear figures. For example, there are lots of kidnappings around China’s east coast. It remains guesswork, but we do know that the number of abductions has rocketed worldwide over the past decade.”
Kidnappings traditionally follow extortion. If someone fails to pay up, abduction follows. Moor says this is a costly and risky business for the kidnappers. A clear infrastructure has to exist for someone to be taken and held somewhere. The latest trend in the kidnap industry is ‘express kidnapping’.
“Sometimes these are hold-ups which have got out of hand and go on for a day, and sometimes they are genuine kidnappings, lasting no more than 36 hours and involving much smaller amounts of money. In Latin America, you see more and more poor people being kidnapped. An express kidnap isn’t dear: someone can be freed for 100 dollars. That’s usually a whole family’s savings.”
The reason for the rise in kidnappings is that there’s lots of money to be made. Moor: “Over the last two decades, we’ve seen the kidnap industry finance whole wars in many parts of the world. Then, the only thing you can do is publicly say that you won’t pay.”
The kidnap industry is kept afloat by special insurance schemes to cover ransoms, argues Moor. Insurance expert Gerrit-Jan Doorneweerd thinks the situation isn’t that bad. “That sort of insurance isn’t very usual, certainly not in the Netherlands. It’s also expensive, because mediators and other things have to be paid for.”
That’s another point that annoys Moor:
“Expensive mediators are flown in who have little knowledge of the context and who are interested in a quick payment to get the thing over with quickly. Maybe insurance sorts out private situations quickly, but it means the problem for the population as a whole gets worse in the longer term. I think people shouldn’t do it.”
Doorneweerd doesn’t see it that way. He grins as he explains: “You don’t think that people in Somalia think, ‘Ah, he’s bound to have kidnap insurance, we take him!’ I don’t think that’s how it works.”
Moor says this is precisely how it works:
“You had roadblocks in Colombia, where people were taken from their cars. The kidnappers were there with laptops to see who had insurance. They appeared to have infiltrated the insurance companies. People were actually selected because of it. That’s why kidnap insurance has long been banned in Colombia.”
Moor advises people not to take out insurance or pay the kidnappers:
“There are often local organisations or churches which have a lot of know-how about these sorts of cases. They work for nothing and negotiate down to the fine points. This means the amounts are much smaller and sometimes are not even paid. Then it becomes less lucrative for the abductors.”