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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Comment:The UN guide on how to react to your kidnapping

Comment:The UN guide on how to react to your kidnapping

Comment:The UN guide on how to react to your kidnapping

The following circular dated in April to all United Nations personnel, signed by

UNDP chief

Andre Klap, gives advice on what to do in the event of kidnapping. The Post has

obtained a copy and publishes it here as a public service.


In light of the recent event [the taking of British deminer Christopher Howes], I

would like you to share the following information with your staff, especially those

working in the field.

The following is a list of advice, as to how one should behave, if taken hostage

(UNHCR Security Awareness).

  • Be cautious of heroics. Do not act foolishly.
  • Be cooperative and obey hostage takers' demands without appearing either servile

    or antagonistic. If you speak the kidnappers' language, use it. It will enhance communication.

  • Look for protected places where you could dive or roll if it should come to the

    use of force to rescue you.

  • Try to keep cool focusing your mind on pleasant scenes or memories or prayers.

    You might try to recollect the plots of books or movies. This will help you to remain


  • Keep a low profile. Avoid appearing to observe crimes that hostage takers commit.

    Look down or away. Avoid interfering with their discussions or activities.

  • Do not make threats against hostage takers or give any indication that you would

    testify against them. If hostage takers are attempting to conceal their identities,

    make no indication that you recognise them.

  • Be reluctant to give up your identification or clothes. Loss of such personal

    belongings is demoralising. Hostage takers can use them for bargaining. Try not to

    accept an exchange of clothes with hostage takers. This could put you in much greater

    danger in case of an attempted rescue by forces of law and order.

  • As a result of the hostage situation, you may have difficulty in retaining fluids.

    Try to drink clean water and eat even if you are not hungry. It is important to maintain


  • Build rapport by drawing attention to your own and other human needs like hunger,

    thirst, use of the toilet.

  • Be conscious of your body language as well as your speech. Do not say or do anything

    to arouse the hostility or suspicions of your captors. Act neutral and be a good

    listener to your captor. Be cautious about making suggestions to your captors as

    you may be held responsible if something you suggest goes wrong.

  • Think of persuasive reasons why hostage takers should not harm you. Encourage

    them to let authorities know of your whereabouts and condition. Suggest ways in which

    you may benefit your captors in negotiations that would free you.

  • If you end up serving as negotiator between hostage takers and authorities, make

    sure the messages are conveyed accurately. Do not refuse to be a negotiator.

  • If there is a rescue attempt by force, drop quickly to the floor and seek cover.

    Keep your hands on your head. When appropriate, identify yourself.

  • Survival as a hostage can depend on your own characteristics. Are you healthy,

    disciplined, patient, resourceful, self-confident, compassionate?


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