Lessons Learned from the Hostage Support Programme

The Hostage Support Programme was born from the strong desire of those involved in Counter Piracy Capacity building, and the then Secretary General’s Special Representative for Somalia (SRSG), Dr Augustine Mahiga, to provide good offices support to the victims of Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia. This gap in our response was assessed to be particularly glaring given that so much international effort was directed at prosecuting the pirates themselves, and preserving their human rights, whilst none was focused upon assisting the hostages – the primary victims of this criminal activity.
Initially, the programme was carried out as an unfunded activity jointly between UNPOS and UNODC. After several successful activities, most notably the repatriation of 14 Myanmar citizens, the programme attracted funding support from the Contact Group for Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) Trust Fund. The programme continued to be managed by UNPOS and UNODC until UNPOS was dissolved in May 2012. The programme now continues using the same staff on a contract basis, but managed by the UNODC Global Maritime Crime Programme in Vienna.
This review was commissioned by UNODC Vienna to ensure that a single document captured the lessons learned from the first twelve months the programme under funding support from the CGPCS Trust Fund.

The report identifies three key areas for the lessons learned project: 1) The authority for actors to negotiate with pirates, 2) Flexibility of funding for hostage support programmes, 3) The need to provide follow up services to the victims of piracy.

During the rapid decline in successful attacks over the course of 2013, the number of ships and hostages held has declined. The remaining hostages are generally from piratings of vessels where the ship owners and insurers (if indeed there was insurance) have since become untraceable. This has left crews held hostage ashore where neither the ship owner nor insurer are willing or able to resolve the crisis, and the capacity of crew nationality states to respond is negligible. In certain cases this has left the Hostage Support Programme (HSP) as the only point of contact for the hostages, those holding the hostages, and the families. Whilst the UN and the HSP have laid clear boundaries so as to ensure we are not involved in ransom discussions with pirates, responsibility for the crew has fallen to the programme, and this has required the HSP team to seek novel approaches to humanitarian release.

The second key issue has been funding, and there is clear evidence that the stated aims of the programme to provide direct support (such as medical aid) to hostages in captivity has been made significantly more difficult by the UN rules and regulations on procurement. A flexible funding pool that allows instant funding for flights, medical support and human information and assistance should be created for the current HSP, and considered during the initial set-up of any future HSP.

The third area, linked to the issue of funding flexibility, in that it is quite clear that hostages held by pirates are victims of crime just like any other. Not only have they and their families suffered over a protracted period, but they often are then subjected to continuing hardship when employersfail to provide back-pay for the time the seafarer was held hostage, nor support their often (and understandably) considerable medical requirements. Further, many seafarers, once released, return home to bureaucracies that do not comprehend what has happened to them in captivity, and which do not or cannot provide the immediate and medium term support they require (medical, financial and documentary) to get their lives back to a semblance of normality. The HSP has developed a follow-up process for all piracy victims, with home visits, medical support and debriefing as the current focus. There are many lessons to be learned from the victims of this crime, and these lessons will benefit others once they have influenced policy and training. However, this follow up will require a level of funding flexibility that is not available in the normal course of routine UN programming.
In summary, the HSP – whilst currently a modest programme – brings huge credit to the Trust Fund and UNODC. It deserves the full support of the UN to achieve its aims, even if this requires some novel and flexible approaches be taken in light of the challenges presented by short term situational changes, and the difficulties of facilitating local humanitarian assistance in the context of Somalia. Further, whilst it is hoped that the need for this particular HSP will soon evaporate as a consequence of the release of all remaining Somali pirate-held hostages, the lessons learned during this programme should be made available to other concerned parties in case a similar programme is in the future necessary in another context.

A copy of the report is available here: Hostage Support Programme – Lessons Learned Report 14 Apr 14

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