+1 800.648.4807

A kidnapping in Kenya: Duty of Care in today's global risk environment

After his convoy was ambushed near Kenya’s sprawling Dadaab refugee camp in 2012, Steven Dennis spent four harrowing days as a hostage in Somalia.  Injured in the initial attack, Dennis and 3 of his colleagues from the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) were forced to walk across the border until they were rescued by a militia group allied with the Kenyan government.  Over two and half years after  his ordeal, in November 2015 a court in Oslo found the NRC  “grossly negligent” over the incident and awarded Dennis 4.4 million Krone (about $500,000 US, court costs).

If right about now you’re breathing a sigh of relief because your organization doesn’t operate in “high risk” environments and you’re thinking this story doesn’t have relevance, think again:  the principles of Duty of Care underlying the NRC case apply as much in London, Bangkok or Nairobi as they do in traditionally high risk environments (though admittedly the risk factors are different).  Heralded as a “wake-up” by some for the humanitarian NGO world, the importance of the NRC case extends far beyond the aid community as a re-affirmation that Duty of Care matters.  Schools, companies or any organization sending people overseas should sit up and take notice.

Details of the Steve Dennis – NRC court case remain limited, but media reports draw attention to three elements of Duty of Care that should resonate with organizations whether travelers are headed to Brazil or Baghdad:

  • Prepare personnel and raise awareness. Providing staff and other travelers details of destination specific risk as well as training and information on how to manage that risk is a key tenant of Duty of Care. Steve Dennis told the Guardian that he was hired on a Wednesday and off to the world’s largest refugee camp by Sunday and it’s unclear how much preparation and training was provided before he deployed.
  • Mitigate risk through plans, procedures and resources.  Establish risk-based security plans, ensure personnel understand them and, importantly, enforce them. Astrid Sehl who was kidnapped along with Dennis accused the NRC in media reports of ignoring the advice of security advisors and deciding against armed escorts that are often provided in and around Dadaab. The ambush that led to the kidnap of Dennis and his colleagues occurred during a highly publicized visit by the head of the NRC, which likely raised the organization’s profile in the area.
  • Provide personnel with post-incident care and support. Follow up medical care and staff support services are essential elements of Duty of Care in the wake of a traumatic incident. And it isn’t all about physical injuries:  post traumatic stress and other behavioral health issues must be addressed, too. Over three years after the kidnapping, Steve Dennis continues to suffer from the emotional harm of his ordeal highlighting that these issues often continue for some time after an incident.

As illustrated by these examples, Duty of Care spans the full spectrum of international staff or traveler deployment — from onboarding to day to day operational management as well as post deployment/post incident support.  Adopting robust plans, procedures and resources to manage risk, respond to emergencies and provide critical care to staff is essential in today’s global risk environment.  And backstopping these measures with effective directors and officers insurance is important to protect organizations in the event of a claim.

Recent terrorism in Europe, Mali, Cote D’ivoire and Indonesia are reminders that the challenges to today’s global travelers aren’t isolated to traditional “high risk environments.” The NRC case reaffirms the importance of having the systems and resources in place to support Duty of Care obligations to personnel around the world.