hostis humani generis

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A painting of a pirate ship, based on Ambroise Louis Garneray’s La Prise du Kent par Surcouf (The Taking of the Kent by Surcouf, 1852). Pirates are regarded in international law as hostes humani generis.

Borrowing from Latin hostis hūmānī generis (enemy of the human race): hostis (enemy of the state) + hūmānī (genitive singular neuter of hūmānus (of man)) + generis (genitive singular of genus (race)).



hostis humani generis (plural hostes humani generis)

  1. (international law) A person who has committed a criminal act so grave – originally maritime piracy and slave-trading, and now torture as well – that any nation may put on trial and, upon conviction, punish him or her.
    • 1694, [Matthew Tindal], “An Essay Concerning the Laws of Nations, and the Rights of Sovereigns. With an Account of what was Said at the Council Board by the Civilians upon the Question, whether Their Majesties Subjects Taken at Sea Acting by the Late King’s Commission, might not be Look’d on as Pirates? With Reflections upon the Arguments of Sir T. P. and Dr. Ol.”, in Four Discourses on the Following Subjects: viz. I. Of Obedience to the Supreme Powers, and the Duty of Subjects in All Revolutions. II. Of the Laws of Nations, and the Rights of Sovereigns. III. Of the Power of the Magistrate, and the Rights of Mankind, in Matters of Religion. IV. Of the Liberty of the Press, London: [s.n.], published 1709, OCLC 874267260, page 116:
      Hoſtis humani generis, is neither a Definition, nor ſo much as a Deſcription of a Pirate, but a rhetorical Invective to ſhew the Odiouſneſs of that Crime. [] So a Man who breaks the common Rules of Honeſty and Juſtice, which are eſſential to the well-being of Mankind, by robbing only one Nation, may juſtly be term'd hoſtis humani generis; and that Nation has the ſame Right to puniſh him, as if he had actually rob'd all Nations.
    • 1824, Nathan Dane, chapter CCX, in A General Abridgment and Digest of American Law, with Occasional Notes and Comments. [...] In Eight Volumes, volume VII, Boston, Mass.: Published by Cummings, Hilliard & Co., OCLC 910388965, article 9 (What is Piracy or Not), § 13, page 94:
      All the definitions of piracy may be reduced to two short ones: 1. That of the Roman or civil law, which describes a pirate to be hostis humani generis; that is, the enemy of mankind: 2. That of the common law, which [describes] him as being a robber on the sea, []
    • 1862 July 12, “Lord Palmerston’s Chinese Policy”, in The Economist, Weekly Commercial Times, Bankers’ Gazette, and Railway Monitor: A Political, Literary, and General Newspaper, volume XX, number 985, London: Economist Office, ISSN 0013-0613, OCLC 886630294, page 760, column 2:
      Neither we nor any other organ of English opinion, [] can feel the slightest sympathy or compassion for the Taepings, unless indeed there be any truth in the exquisitely horrible accounts of their massacre by Chinese troops which anonymous correspondents send home here. That they are hostes humani generis, we very willingly admit. But because they are hostes humani generis it does not follow that the whole human race is bound to take up the responsibility of defeating their designs.
    • 1980 June 30, Irving R[obert] Kaufman (Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit), Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, Federal Reporter, volume 630, page 890:
      In the modern age, humanitarian and practical considerations have combined to lead the nations of the world to recognize that respect for fundamental human rights is in their individual and collective interest. Among the rights universally proclaimed by all nations, as we have noted, is the right to be free of physical torture. Indeed, for purposes of civil liability, the torturer has become—like the pirate and slave trader before him—hostis humani generis, an enemy of all mankind.
    • 2008, Peter Judson Richards, “Hugo Grotius, Hostis Humani Generis, and the Natural Law in Time of War”, in Liberty University Law Review, volume 2, number 3, page 897:
      The response of international law, as articulated by [Hugo] Grotius in the seventeenth century—though hardly invented by him—and reiterated in later formulations, was that such actors [pirates and marauders] were outlaws, and enemies of all humankind (hostis humani generis). As the standard texts explain, this is still the case in international law today, and thus, "Piracy jure gentium (under the law of nations) is the first international crime warranting universal jurisdiction, a concept that permits any state to bring a pirate to justice at any time, anywhere."

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