Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point: Debates: African
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Tuesday, 12 September, 2000, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
Hostage taking: Can it ever be justified?

The kidnap in Sierra Leone of a group of British soldiers has once again shown that seizing hostages guarantees widespread media attention.

News and Information for Africa
However, hostage taking in Africa is not limited to Sierra Leone. Oil workers in Nigeria's Delta region are frequently held by angry local groups who feel they have been short-changed by the oil companies and in Somalia aid workers are equally at risk from avaricious and opportunist militiamen.

So can hostage taking ever be justified? Is it the last resort of the powerless or is it simply cruelly playing with the emotions of the hostages and their families?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Like all fair-minded people I condemn hostage taking. It is a cowardly and very primitive way of settling conflicts. In my humble opinion The West Side Boys (who at first I thought were a boy band) are a bunch of thugs with no cause and no direction.
As an African I feel ashamed when these thugs abduct and kill. If you have seen a caption of their ways on TV, I am sure you would have noticed the similarity with Stone age beings performing a prehunt ritual.
Tonny Ssemakula, Ugandan in UK

If hostage-taking is defined by a sign of helplessness, unjustified method of settling dispute, I think it must be condemned world-wide. There is a point to drive home for opportunists militiamen and avaricious global capitalists: never think you can win a war, at all costs. A conducive environment for political dialogue is the best way. We must abhor "terrorism" in all its forms: Even the World Powers, with their nuclear arsenals are taking the "have-nots" for "Ransom". Or is that not an act of terror, when you close all channels that can lead to Negotiations", and embark on "Military Force?"
Tajudeen Isiaka, Nigeria

The developed world can't comment on hostage taking since they are responsible for taking hostage of the entire African continent

Haileluel, Australia
There are two kinds of hostage taking. One is primitive like what happens in Sierra Leone. The second is taking the entire citizenship of a country hostage through economic and political suppression. The developed world can't comment on this matter since they are responsible for taking hostage of the entire African continent.
Haileluel, Australia

I'm sure the world can easily distinguish between the total addiction to banditry by the criminal gangs in Sierra Leone or Somalia, and the desperate but harmless protests by the ordinary people of the Niger delta, who have been victims of the most merciless forms of continuous environmental degradation and economic deprivation since the discovery of oil in their area. Surely, at some stage, direct (but non-violent) action has to be the only legitimate alternative. How very ironic that as I write, the blockade in France appears to be spreading to the UK.
Ubong Effeh, UK (Nigerian)

It is a crime and should be viewed as such. No exceptions should be made regardless of underlying circumstances.
Clement Chiwaya, Malawian studying in USA

Africans should be the last people on earth to engage themselves in such a cowardly act. We Africans condemn the West for slavery. What's different from what they are doing?
Cillaty Daboh, Sierra Leone/ USA

Giving in to the demands of criminals is only going to encourage more of the same

Garth, Zimbabwe
Giving in to the demands of criminals is only going to encourage more of the same. What is needed is a two-prong approach to the problem. Firstly, the short-term solution is to strengthen the security services to deal with this type of problem. Secondly, is to create a political system which is supported by the overwhelming majority of the citizens. I think that the amount of crime in a country is proportional to the degree to which the political system alienates the citizens. And it is the criminals who mostly demonstrate this alienation by defying the power of the state.
Garth, Zimbabwe

Hostage taking should not be tolerated in any form - it is an assault on the person and an act of terrorism. There are plenty of other ways of peacefully drawing attention to your cause. No offence to the hostage takers, but they should be hunted down and prosecuted. Their demands should certainly not be met.
Michael, Ireland

The British soldiers may not have been prudent in their mission but taking them hostage does not make things any better for this war-ravaged country. With the decline of inter-state wars and a rise in internal conflicts within countries, the UN should redefine its role and give a mandate to its peace-keeping forces to engage in combat where life is threatened.
Andrew Limo, Kenyan/ UK

Hostage taking in any shape or form, for whatever reason is ill advised

Henry Williams, New York/ Sierra Leone
Hostage taking in any shape or form, for whatever reason is ill advised. Every human being has the inalienable right to freedom of movement except when a crime is committed. This latest event in Sierra Leone will only come to confirm the fears of innocent people that one should never negotiate with murderers, rapists, arsonists or other criminals.
Henry Williams, New York/ Sierra Leone

It is a sign of helplessness at local and regional level in countries (especially in Africa and South America) where people believe the national ruling government doesn't represent them at all.
Dal, USA

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

26 Jul 00 | Africa
Aid workers kidnapped in Somalia
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to other African stories