Article February 5, 2018

Wrongful detention trends around the world

Wrongful or unlawful detention of business or recreational travellers by state or nonstate groups will also present a security concern in 2018. Communities with adverse views of foreign business activities, including in a number of medium- and lower-risk environments such as Bolivia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Peru, and Paraguay, may detain foreign or local staff as a show of resistance, and as a bargaining chip during politically motivated or communal protest activity. Such detentions may continue until disputes are resolved, posing an immediate potential threat to employees’ safety and a longer-term obstacle to business continuity.

The specific threat from unlawful detentions related to business disputes will persist in a number of Asian countries, including China and Hong Kong, where preventing individuals from leaving work or hotel premises is used as a mechanism to settle commercial disputes and business disagreements, or as a response to human resource-related actions such as the closure of a facility and resultant retrenchments.

Short-term detention by authorities on the basis of perceived political agendas or security concerns will remain a potential concern in countries such as China, Eritrea, Indonesia, Myanmar, Russia, North Korea, and Zimbabwe, where personal or business information may be subject to a high level of scrutiny. The ramifications of misrepresentation or misinterpretation of information can result in severe legal and financial costs, as well as travel and business disruptions.

In January last year, a tour group made up of Canadian, Swiss and American nationals was detained during an outbreak of violent unrest in Chiapas state, Mexico. The group was traveling between San Cristobal de las Casas to Palenque when they were stopped at an unofficial road blockade in the town of Oxchuc. The blockade had been erected by demonstrators who had been protesting the administration of the local mayor. The foreign tourists were held by unidentified masked men for several hours; they were subsequently released during police operations against the protest.

On the other side of the globe, a Chinese businessman was kidnapped in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, on 12 July 2016. According to reports, the abduction was motivated by a dispute involving a Vietnamese business partner, who was owed money by an associate of the Chinese victim. The incident was brought to the attention of Vietnamese authorities when the hostage contacted an in-country contact and requested assistance. The contact notified the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi, which in turn contacted local police; five locals were arrested and the victim released two days later.