I’m so pleased that the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee is holding an inquiry into state hostage taking. For too long, these cases have been under the radar, treated as consular cases rather than hostage cases, and been handled at the whim of the Foreign Secretary. This has to end.
I spoke about the rise of state hostage taking, its acceleration in the past 5-10 years and how it is part of a broader pattern of aggression by a dozen or so states, including Iran, Russia and China.
I argue it is not primarily a diplomatic problem, although diplomacy has a role to play, and suggest the UK could learn a lot from US government approaches.
In particular, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. This position and its office has a number of benefits: the Envoy reports directly to the President, bringing accountability and access; he or she can coordinate efforts across all branches of government; the office has formal and informal mechanisms for engaging non-governmental actors; it can centralize know-how and institutional memory; and it brings consistency for families over the years these cases can span.
Ultimately, solutions don’t lie in debates about “to pay or not to pay” – experience from Italy and Colombia shows banning payments doesn’t work. We will end the crime by working internationally with our allies to tackle the underlying causes and drivers and demonstrating a steely resolve to punish those responsible.
I’m currently writing a book on state hostage taking – so welcome your comments and feedback.