The Pirate as Hostis Humani Generis: the Illegitimate Enemy

Author Vishal Surbun

ISSN: 2411-7870
Affiliations: LLB LLM (Maritime Law) PhD (University of KwaZulu-Natal). Senior lecturer, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal. Attorney and Notary Public of the High Court of South Africa
Source: Fundamina, Volume 27 Issue 2, p. 67-86


Alongside the widely accepted definition of maritime piracy, the phrase hostis humani generis or “enemies of all humankind” has been frequently used in piracy jurisprudence and scholarship. This contribution traverses the historical usage of the phrase in academic commentaries and finds that while a literal translation of the phrase has mostly remained the same over the centuries, there has been no consistent definition and contextualisation of the term “enemy”. In this context, the contribution then investigates whether the phrase is a reliable epithet, and whether it should be seen as part of the definition of “pirate”.