Hostes humani generis: Pirates, Slavers, and Other Criminals

Joaquín Alcaide Fernández

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of International Law

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199599752
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Law

Hostes humani generis: Pirates, Slavers, and Other Criminals


This chapter notes that legal literature and States have built upon Cicero’s legacy of pirates as hostes humani generis, extending to other acts the legal consequences attached to them (criminalization and universal jurisdiction): slave-trade or enslavement, war crimes, crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and terrorism. Piracy, slavery, and other acts or activities that are nowadays considered criminal were not necessarily in other times. The theoretical distinction between piracy and privateering blurred in practice. International law provided arguments and legal foundations to address the repression of pirates, slavers, and other criminals before 1945; yet law-enforcement practice also offered arguments to prevent their criminal prosecution on a universal jurisdiction basis.

Keywords: piracy; slavery; Cicero; criminalization; international law; war crimes; terrorism

Article.  11753 words. 

Subjects: Law ; History of Law ; International Law

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