Hostis humani generis translated means “the enemy of mankind.”
The first hostis humani generis recorded was Cain. In the old testament he was marked by God so that all would know to shun him and act against him for his terrible deeds against his brother but would be prevented from killing him.
The term then evolved over the centuries to be applied to robber-barons, pirates and slave traders and was almost solely used to describe the type of “justice” allowed to occur in regards to these persons while at sea. Hostis humani generis is most deeply rooted in admiralty law.
If you are labeled hostis humani generis and you are at sea, then you are not protected in international waters by the country whose flag you sail under but are held responsible to what is called universal jurisdiction. All may accost you, shun you, act against you – but killing you would be subject to scrutiny.
International waters are waters that are not governed by any particular state or jurisdiction and each ship is subject to the protection and laws of the country under whose flag it sails.
An act of piracy is any act of robbery or criminal violence by private parties while at sea. Just as an aside, a country cannot commit piracy by definition.
Interesting to note as well, is that the definition of hostis humani generis is being expanded to include torturers, but not terrorists. Terrorism, in the tricky waters (pardon the pun) of international law is subject to political interpretation as to who is the terrorist. Torture is, universally, seen as a crime against humanity. Odd too, to note, that torture is not considered so much a personal crime as a crime against us all. But…I think that is right. But that is a whole other train of thought.
Israel recently attacked a flotilla of aid ships and sixteen people died. The rest are in Israeli prisons. The aid ships were bound to Gaza to try and bring humanitarian aid to the Gaza strip by breaking through the Israeli blockade. Israel has enforced a “black-out” as to the identifications of the people dead or imprisoned.
The flotilla was manned by activists, many of whom were filmed shouting anti-Israeli slogans as they boarded the ships.
There is substantial confusion about what went on that the Israeli soldiers opened fire after boarding the boats. There is a lot of “they had this” but “I saw that” going on. Technically, the Israeli soldiers boarded carrying paint guns for crowd control. Technically they were met with resistance by wood batons. Here the account falls apart and their is a question of whether or not knives were shown, an Israeli soldier was thrown to a lower deck and the gunfire began.
All this happened…
in International Waters.
The general consensus of the UN and other countries is a sound condemnation of Israel’s actions. They have been called pirates.
Israel is edging around trying to deem the activists and the flotilla hostis humanis generis and declaring that by universal jurisdiction they had a right to board the boats and open fire.
The rest of the world is having problems assigning the label to the people on the boat. The fact that they were shouting anti-Israeli slogans when boarding is not enough to have someone declared an enemy of mankind. However, Israel’s choice of actions has suddenly opened them up to being declared Hostis because they attacked a ship carrying humanitarian aid and sailing under a white flag.
The white flag is an international symbol of protection and ceasefire. While it has been abused in war time (of course) it is rare.
White flags, like red crosses and the red star and crescent are international signs of protection indicating that humanitarian aid is going on.
Now, that is like an oxymoron that in the middle of sanctified murder and destruction we would have “safe zones” but…that is yet another different train of thought.
It is shining an extremely bright light on the Gaza seige again and Isreali has now walked to a line with the tolerance of the world for their actions.
Yet who can judge?
Hostis humani generis is not a label given to someone by individual governments but by the UN. It comes from a majority consensus. The only ships that may be stopped in international waters are those of hostis humani generis. Countries are not even supposed to engage in warfare there.
Why? Because the boats are governed by the countries they sail under but the waters are of universal jurisdiction and your war may not be mine.
But also, maritime law has such rational things built into it as allowing even enemy ships safe harbor during a storm.
Maritime law is a thing all of its own and there are reasons for it being that way.
The Freedom of the Sea.
Not one country has the right to mess with that freedom. If you begin to mess with that, there is a chance you could cross that line into piracy.
The world we have created turns and twists contradictions around itself as far as what we call just and what we call in just. What we call terrorism and what we call pre-emptive protection. Like it or not, agree with it or not, Israel and Palestine have always been the awkward cousins that reveal just how incestuous and inappropriate our attempts at formulating half baked universal law has been.
The enemies of mankind sit around tables to vote to declare others enemies of mankind and this allows the ones sitting at the table to believe they are just and are friends of mankind, Amicus Humani Generis.
Amicus Humani Generis is a legal definition that does not exist.
That is the real problem here.
(I’ll record another chapter tomorrow)
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