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Captured: Haiti Seizes Lead in Kidnappings Worldwide

Understanding and Managing the Risks to Your Organization and People

by: Joe Gleason, AHT Director of International Risk Management


We’ve all heard it at some point: kidnapping is a high risk in “country X”.

But beyond that high-level statement, the details of how the kidnapping risk plays out in a location aren’t always clear. And as we know, when trying to mitigate and respond to risks, the details matter.

Case in point: Haiti.

As illustrated by the abduction of 17 missionaries on October 16, 2021, kidnapping is a significant and growing risk in Haiti, having increased six-fold since October 2020. Haiti’s capital, Port au Prince, has the unfortunate distinction of being a world leader in kidnapping, eclipsing Mexico City, Sao Paulo, and Bogota – combined.

Fueled in various parts by a dismal economy, chronic and worsening political instability, and weak security forces – all exacerbated by natural disasters like the August earthquake – kidnapping is one of many risks plaguing Haiti. As highlighted by this recent article from the Washington Post, kidnapping is an equal opportunity risk in Haiti, impacting people across the socio-economic spectrum, from those running market stalls to business owners. NGO personnel are often prized targets given the perception they command high ransoms.

So how can organizations manage the risk of kidnapping?

First and foremost, understand the risk. In Haiti, the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights publishes kidnapping statistics, which provides in-country data, though any kidnapping stats should be qualified by the fact that many incidents go unreported. Of course, there’s not an in-country source in every location tracking these incidents. Security working groups, OSAC country councils, and other resources are essential to help understand the nature of the risk in a location.

One of the key steps an organization can take is to engage proactively with the crisis consultants (aka response consultants) embedded within the Kidnap, Ransom, and Extortion (KRE) insurance policy. This critical resource not only provides assistance in the event of an incident but can also assist with information about the kidnapping environment, as well as mitigation best practices.

As with any critical resource, it’s always better to engage prior to an incident to understand:

  • How the consultants support in the event of a kidnapping (spoiler alert: It’s not like in the movies – there are no rescue missions or even direct negotiation with kidnappers).
  • The typical (to the extent there is a “typical”) way in which kidnappings unfold and some of the common characteristics and challenges (role of the organization, who negotiates, family support, role of the US and other governments, etc).
  • Information that is available about kidnapping and other “special” risks globally and in specific locations through an online portal, periodic email updates, and one-off discussions.
  • Training and other learning opportunities to mitigate the risk and strengthen response, including those that can be paid for (in part) by the “subvention” or “prevention” fund that is often a part of KRE insurance programs. These range from crisis management exercises to individual kidnap response training.
  • Plans and procedures development and review that can enhance organizational preparedness.

Like many risks, kidnapping is one that requires a careful balance of understanding the nature of the risk, building mitigation measures, and being prepared to respond to an incident. Drawing in crisis consultants, as well as on the ground resources can help build an informed understanding of the nature of a kidnapping risk environment – an essential foundation to mitigation and response planning.