Political Apologies Archive

AHDA Political Apology

How does the act of apologizing enable societies to come to terms with their past?

Political apologies can be a powerful tool in the re-examination of a nation's history, and the significance this history has on democratic processes. The project includes a working list of political apologies throughout history that political scientist Graham Dodds has researched and compiled.

This is a working list of major political apologies and related events. The selection criteria for compiling the list are somewhat loose, but the intent is to include any and all apologies that involve states, nations, or major political groups and actors, generally for significant public wrongs. Thus, apologies by individual politicians for more narrow matters (e.g., alleged personal or criminal failings) are generally excluded.

Should you wish to add to the list, please e-mail ahda@columbia.edu.

Date of Apology Title Summary Source
24 March 2016 2016: USA-Brutality of Argentina’s “dirty war” in the 1970s and 1980s

 President Barack Obama expresses regret for the failure of the U.S. to acknowledge the brutality of Argentina’s “dirty war” in the 1970s and 1980s.

Davis, Julie. “Obama Expresses Regret for U.S. Policies During Argentina’s ‘Dirty War.’” New York Times. March 24, 2016.
27 March 2016 2016: USA federal judge-nurse sentenced in 2003 to 15 months in prison for insurance fraud

 U.S. federal judge John Gleeson issues a non-binding “federal certificate of rehabilitation” for a nurse whom he sentenced in 2003 to 15 months in prison for insurance fraud, in order to vouch for her character and thereby make it easier for her to obtain employment despite her criminal record.  


Wegman, Jesse. “A Federal Judge’s New Model for Forgiveness.” New York Times. March 16, 2016.
1 April 2016 2016: South African President Jacob Zuma -violation of the the Constitution

 South African President Jacob Zuma apologizes after the country’s highest court ruled that he had violated the Constitution.

Onishi, Norimitsu. “Jacob Zuma Says He’ll Repay South Africa for Home Improvements. New York Times. April 1, 2016.
29 April 2016 Auschwitz Guard Reinhold Hanning Apologies

On trial for being an accessory to the murder of 170,000 people, 94-year old Reinhold Hanning says he is “sincerely sorry” for failing to prevent tens of thousands of deaths while he was a guard at the Auschwitz death camp in 1942-1944.  He says, “I am ashamed that I witnessed injustice and allowed it to continue without taking actions against it.”

Eddy, Melissa. “Former Auschwitz Guard Apologizes at Trial in Germany.” New York Times. April 29, 2016.
10 May 2016 Settlement for Residential School Survivors in Canada

Lawyers announce a $50 million settlement of a class action lawsuit brought by hundreds of survivors of residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador against the Canadian federal government.  Many survivors also expressed the desire for an apology.

Kelland, Ariana and Mark Quinn. “N.L. residential school survivors’ lawyers reach $50M settlement with Ottawa.” CBC News. May 10, 2016.
18 May 2016 Canada Apologies for Komagata Maru Incident

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologizes for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, in which 376 South Asians were refused entry to Canada. (Prime Minister Harper had also apologized for it in 2008.)  

O’Neil, Peter. “PM gives apology for Komagata Maru.” Montreal Gazette. May 19, 2016.
25 May 2016 Hiroshima Survivors Seek Apology

In advance of President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, Japan, Korean survivors of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki seek an apology.  (One-fifth of the victims were Koreans, most of whom had been taken to Japan as forced laborers.) 

Sang-Hun, Choe. “Korean Survivors of Atomic Bombs Renew Right for Recognition, and Apology.” New York Times. May 25, 2016.
25 May 2016 United States Apologies for Murder of Japanese Woman

President Barack Obama expresses “sincerest condolences and deepest regrets” for the murder of a Japanese woman in Okinawa by a U.S. marine.

Kepnes, Jeff. “Obama apologizes for Okinawa incident.” CNN. May 25, 2016.
30 May 2016 Ontario Apologies to Indigenous Peoples

Premier Kathleen Wynne of Ontario, Canada apologizes for harm done to indigenous peoples at residential schools.

“Ontario Apologizes for Residential Schools.” News Release, Office of the Premier. Toronto, ON. May 30, 2016.
1 June 2016 Mitsubishi Materials Apologizes to Miners

The Japanese company Mitsubishi Materials apologizes for forcing Chinese workers to labor in its mines during World War II and agrees to compensate three surviving former laborers.

Ramzy, Austin. “Mitsubishi Materials Apologizes to Chinese World War II Laborers.” New York Times. June 1, 2016. 650
9 June 2016 United States Apologies to Qatar for Soldier's Insults

The U.S. ambassador to Qatar apologizes after a video shows U.S. soldiers appearing to insult the country.

Koran, Laura. “U.S. apologizes to Qatar for video of laughing American sodiers.” CNN. June 9, 2016.
27 June 2016 Turkey Apologies for Shooting Down Russian Plane

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey writes to Russian President Vladimir Putin to apologize for shooting down a Russian war plane in November, 2015.

Tavernise, Sabrina. “Seeking to Improve Ties With Russia, Turkey Apologized for Downing Warplane.” New York Times. June 27, 2016.
27 June 2016 Pope Seeks Apology for Gay Community

Pope Francis said that the Christians should apologize to gays and others who faced discrimination.

Gallagher, Delia and Daniel Burke. “Pope says Christians should apologize to gay people.” CNN. June 27, 2016.
1 August 2016 Taiwan to Aboriginal Residents

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan apologizes to the country’s 540,000 aboriginal residents for centuries of mistreatment and discrimination.

Ramzy, Austin. “Taiwan’s President Apologizes to Aborigines for Centuries of Injustice.” New York Times. August 1, 2016.
11 August 2016 Canada Suggests Forthcoming Apology to Gay Community

Canadian government officials say that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will soon apologize for the country’s historic persecution of gay people.

Ibbitson, John. “Justin Trudeau to apologize for historical persecution of gay Canadians.” Globe and Mail. August 11, 2016.
2016 Patriarch of Eritrean Church Claims Government Staged False Apology

In Eritrea, supporters of the Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Tewahdo Church, Abune Antonios, claim that the government staged a false apology from him in order to resolve the embarrassment of his ten year imprisonment.

Wood, Mark. “Eritrea accused of staging false apology from imprisoned patriarch.” Christian Today. August 12, 2016.
12 August 2016 United States Apologies to Indian Actor Shah Rukh Khan

The American Ambassador to India apologizes after the popular Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan is detained at a U.S. airport for the third time in recent years.

Victor, Daniel. “Shah Rukh Khan, ‘King of Bollywood,’ Was Detained at a U.S. Airport for the Third Time.” New York Times. August 12, 2016.
22 November 2016 Gay Governmental Employees

In announcing that Canada will make a uniform age of sexual consent, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hints at a future apology for gay governmental employees who lost their jobs because of their sexual orientation.

"Righting a Wrong.” Montreal Gazette. November 22, 2016.
17 December 2016 Japanese Condolences for Pearl Harbor

In an appearance with President Obama at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offers condolences but not an apology for the 1941 attack.

Schmidt, Michael S. “Japanese Leader Offers Condolences in Visit to Pearl Harbor.” New York Times. December 27, 2016.
28 December 2016 Colobmian Congress approves FARC Amnesty

The Colombian Congress approves a law offering amnesty to the Farc guerilla group for some crimes committed in the country’s decades-long conflict.

“Colombia approves amnesty agreed in Farc peace deal.” BBC.com December 28, 2016.