Hostages and Ransom Payments: What is France's Policy?

Around three months after the French President François Hollande’s decision to stop paying ransoms to hostage takers, the Moulin-Fournier family were finally released, to the immense relief of their family and friends. However, there is still no information to shed light on how this liberation occurred.

Video of the hostages following their release via zoominwal [fr]:

In January 2013, François Hollande told the families of French citizens around the world that France would henceforth follow a policy of refusing financial dealings with the hostage-takers. The time of giving in to ransom demands had come to an end.

This change had been considered during the Sarkozy era, due to payment of ransoms increasing the greed of kidnappers. Abdoulaye Bah of Global Voices noted in 2010 that [fr]:

Plus de 90% du financement des groupes terroristes proviennent de paiement de rançons. [..] Tant que les pays occidentaux paient pour libérer leurs otages, les groupes terroristes garnissaient leurs «comptes».

More than 90% of funding for terrorist groups comes from ransom payments. […] As long as western countries pay to free their hostages, the terrorist groups will add to their “accounts”.

The crisis in Mali accelerated the process [fr]. Since when, intelligence service agents have tried to adapt their negotiation methods, breaking with the French techniques which had prevailed until that time. The adopted model was along the lines of those used in Britain and America.

French Negotiation Techniques compared to those of Britain and the US

Bernard Kouchner talked of the different approaches [fr] when trying to resolve hostage situations:

On oppose souvent un modèle français qui paie et un modèle anglo-saxon qui ne paie pas mais les choses ne sont pas si claires que cela, chaque affaire d'otage est unique et plus complexe qu'on ne le croit.

People often compare the French method, which pays, and the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ method which doesn’t, but things are not as simple as that, each hostage situation is unique and more complex than can be imagined.

Contrary to in Britain and the US, where it is clearly spelled out to citizens that government policy will not make any type of concession regarding individuals or groups who take hostages, France has not set out a precise policy in its official documents, and instead only used to warn against kidnappings.

François Hollande therefore set in action a radical change when he made his clear announcement of France’s refusal to give in to ransom demands. However, the lack of transparency over the latest liberation of hostages in Cameroon leads the onlooker to believe that the actual situation is more complicated.

How were the Moulin-Fournier family freed?

The French family were taken hostage on February 19, 2013 in Cameroon, and claimed by Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist group. The hostages were freed on April 19. News website Slate Afrique asked Did France pay a ransom to Boko Haram? [fr] the day after their liberation:

Des questions qui se posent avec d’autant plus d’acuité que l’on se souvient des revendications de Boko Haram, lorsque la secte nigériane a confirmé être l’auteur de l’enlèvement de cette famille française, dans la localité de Dabanga, dans l’extrême-nord du Cameroun, le 19 février dernier

These questions take on ever greater importance when we remember Boko Haram’s demands when the Nigerian sect confirmed responsibility for the kidnapping of this French family, near Dabanga in the extreme north of Cameroon on February 19

The article also remarked upon the discretion of the French and Cameroon governments on this affair.

The French government has reaffirmed that it did not break its resolution and that it did not pay a ransom. The members of Boko Haram had let it be known in a video uploaded on February 25 that they wanted family members “imprisoned in Nigeria and Cameroon” to be freed. The Nigerian government then intervened, however, details of any negotiations [fr] were not disclosed.

As for the Moulin-Fournier family, they told the media through crisis management consultants [fr] about their tough experience without disclosing any information concerning the conditions of their release. The question of what is French policy in hostage situations therefore remains open.

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