The ‘Jolly Roger’ (Pirate Flag)
International Law's Objects (Jessie Hohmann & Daniel Joyce eds., 2019, Forthcoming)
18 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2018
Date Written: July 24, 2018
Presently, a black flag with a skull-and-crossbones (the ‘Jolly Roger’) is merely a cultural icon for piracy. This chapter excavates the flag’s deep roots in international law. Part I uncovers that the flag used to be a laws-of-war signal for the intention to take no prisoners (‘deny quarter’). It was used not only by pirates. Intriguingly, the flag’s history aids in exposing misconceptions regarding criminal justice. Domestic criminal law is considered the traditional form of criminal justice, whereas international criminal law is considered a novel, post-WWII, creation. Piracy is deemed the only long-standing international crime, because for centuries universal jurisdiction has extended over it. However, historically, universal jurisdiction was applied not only to piracy, but also to felonies (crimes classified today as domestic) and war crimes. Part II discusses that actual history of criminal justice and shows that it and the Jolly Roger’s legal history were forgotten for similar reasons.
Keywords: Jolly Roger; Pirate Flag; Oriflamme; Piracy; Universal Jurisdiction; Summary Executions; No Quarter; International Criminal Law History
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