Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. section 1605A(h)(2)

This definition is derived from the U.S. law definition of “hostage taking” in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. section 1605A(h)(2), which incorporates by reference the definition of “hostage taking” from Article 1 of the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages (1979).

A “hostage” is: “Any person who is seized or detained against his or her will in order to compel a third party to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the person.”  Note that this definition does not include persons who are lawfully seized or detained for taking a direct part in hostilities in the context of an armed conflict.

The following principles underpin the work of Hostage US:

1. Family support

a) Confidentiality:

a. Hostage US treats all information it receives in confidence. It does not report to anyone on its discussions and interactions with families and former hostages unless it has their express permission to do so.
b. Hostage US will only inform government agencies or employers that it is supporting a family/former hostage with their express permission to do so.
c. If it is dealing with separate parts of the same family, Hostage US will not pass information between them and will allocate separate responders to each part of the family.
d. Hostage US does not state, privately or publicly, which cases it is working on or has worked on historically.
e. Hostage US does not comment in the media or on social media on individual cases.
f. Hostage US will not circulate media stories on social media relating to hostage releases for cases it has worked on without checking with family members and the returning hostage first.
g. Hostage US will always ask for explicit permission to use anyone’s identifiable information including names, stories, photos, etc. and always respect the privacy rights of the owners of that information while posting on social media.

b) Support not lead:

a. Hostage US is there to support the family and not take the lead in the case. All of its actions must be in support of the family, at their request, and must seek to underpin and reinforce the family or former hostage’s control of the situation.
b. Hostage US offers options, it counsels on information the family or former hostage has received, providing the pros and cons of different courses of action, but does not steer a family in a particular direction.
c. Once the family has made a decision, Hostage US supports them in that, whether or not it is the decision Hostage US would have preferred.

c) Professional distance:

a. Hostage US family support volunteers maintain a professional relationship with the families and former hostages they support. They do not seek to become ‘friends’, never hold meetings in the presence of alcohol, do not seek to become part of the family or friendship network or replace that in anyway.
b. The support is given in such a way that professional boundaries are made clear, mindful of the fact that those being supported are in a vulnerable position.

d) Free support:

a. All support is provided free of charge; Hostage US does not charge for any service to the families and hostages it supports.
b. Should families decide to pay for support from specialists recommended or introduced by Hostage US, this is done contractually between the family/individual and the specialist and is separate from the family/individual’s relationship with Hostage US. Hostage US does not benefit from such arrangements. Staff and directors of Hostage US are not permitted to benefit financially from any such arrangement.

e) Professional standards of care:

a. Hostage US ensures that its responders are properly trained in the necessary skills, and only engages professionals with the highest of professional reputations in their area of expertise.
b. Where Hostage US does not feel it is equipped to offer a particular kind of support, it will make this clear to the family. It will not attempt to help regardless, and doing so can have a detrimental impact.
c. Where it identifies skills and expertise gaps, Hostage US seeks to fill these through training or the recruitment of new pro bono advisors.

f) Position on payment of ransoms:

a. Hostage US does not have an official position on the payment of ransoms. Hostage US acknowledges that families find themselves in difficult positions in relation to ransom payment. To have a position one way or another could potentially interfere with Hostage US’s ability to support the family.

g) Payment of ransoms:

a. Hostage US does not offer operational advice to families, including in relation to the negotiation and payment of a ransom
b. Hostage US does not get involved in the payment, or inadvertently any other action, that could facilitate the payment of a ransom, whether this is to criminals or terrorists
c. A family support volunteer must inform families of Hostage US’s policy in relation to ransoms using an agreed set of words, as set out in the document ‘Hostage US Policy and Guidance on Ransom Demands/Payments’. This must be done as early in their relationship with the family as is appropriate to avoid them becoming privy to information relating to ransom negotiation or payment.
d. Should a responder become aware of information relating to the negotiation or payment of a ransom, they must report their suspicions to the Executive Director or President who will consider (and seek suitable advice where necessary) the situation and report to the relevant authorities where necessary. All discussions, advice and/or decisions concerning potential ransom payments must be retained on file.

h) Support not operational response:

a. Hostage US draws a clear line between family support (personal care, practical help, referral to specialist healthcare professionals, for example) and operational response (negotiation, rescue, other response activities).
b. Hostage US is there to help families cope with the kidnap and its aftermath, not resolve its outcome.

i) Avoiding mission creep:

a. Hostage US is focused on family/hostage support and improving the ability of organizations to provide family/hostage support.
b. Hostage US does not stray from this into operational response, or other topic areas, such as kidnap prevention or threat assessment.

2. External relations

a) Relationship with government agencies: Hostage US maintains a sound and productive relationship with all governments, but remains strictly independent.

b) Public interest: Hostage US works in the public interest and the interests of the families and hostages it supports. It does not act for private gain.

c) Independence: Hostage US is independent of all parties engaged in a kidnapping (government, employers, insurance, response organizations, media, other providers). Hostage US is there solely for the family and hostage/former hostage and will always put their interests first.

d) Online communications: Hostage US must refrain from commenting on the work of other organizations, government and media on their online communications including social media.

3. Organizational governance

a) Finances:

a. Directors are not remunerated or financially rewarded for their contributions to Hostage US.
b. Core operating costs are kept to the minimum requirement to ensure resources are focused on family/hostage support.
c. Overheads are limited.
d. Pro bono support is sought wherever possible.

b) Value of personal experience:

a. Hostage US places a strong emphasis on the experiences of those who have been through a kidnap situation, whether as a former hostage or family member of a former hostage.
b. Hostage US strives to have these individuals adequately represented on both its staff and board to help reinforce its aims and mission.

4. Training and seminars

a) Hostage US runs seminars that attendees pay to attend. This is one of its principal revenue streams.

b) Hostage US limits the number of attendees at its seminars to ensure they are a genuine learning environment rather than simply a money-making activity.

c) Hostage US does not accept sponsorship for its events, and it does not offer a platform to organizations that wish to sell their products or services at these events.

d) Hostage US training and education is limited to the areas of its aims and objectives: family support and hostage reintegration. It does not engage in education or training on other aspects of a kidnap, such as prevention, security, risk assessment, threat assessment, negotiation, or response. It may be involved in these kinds of events, but where its involvement is strictly limited to aspects relating to family support and hostage reintegration.

e) Hostage US events are marketed at the going commercial rate, but discounts are offered to non-profits and public servants to ensure ability to pay does not limit access to Hostage US’s expertise.