I just did a BBC Radio Ulster interview on the subject of ransoms alongside John McTernan, Tony Blair’s former political secretary. I’d been asked to take part on the basis of this recent blogpost.
John put the government line, which is that we shouldn’t pay ransoms because it fuels terrorism and encourages terrorists to take British hostages. However, this doesn’t address the issue of whether private citizens and companies should pay ransoms – which obviously accounts for most ransom-paying.
The overwhelming majority of ransoms are paid in dangerous parts of the world, notably in Africa, where hostage-takers have no interest in ideology and often demand fairly small amounts of money. The criminal activity takes place because the area is lawless and often the criminals are desperate. If a ransom isn’t paid, the worker or loved one will be killed or, possibly, sold on to an organisation which is ideological. If we ban British companies and people from paying ransoms, kidnappers will choose other victims because the lawlessness will not have been reduced but in each case the employee or loved one will be murdered. It would be monstrous to tell people that they would be breaking the law if they did everything to get their child or worker back even when their government had made it clear the was nothing they could do. Indeed, the British government has no purview in respect of most of those workers kidnapped because they are local nationals – they’d simply be banning British companies from saving them.
What is happening in the middle-east is awful but it mustn’t distract us from the rest of the world. Moreover, governments must not take people’s power to protect their loved ones and employees out of their own hands. The UK leads the world in the field of kidnap and ransom insurance, negotiation and all the other aspect of this complex problem. Across the world, all the time, lives are quietly saved and families have their loved one’s returned. Knee-jerk legislation would condemn a lot of people to an unnecessary and very unpleasant death.