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
October 1995 1995: Switzerland’s refusal to accept refugees during the war

Swiss president Kaspar Villiger apologizes for Switzerland’s refusal to accept refugees during the war.

“Switzerland Repeats 1995 Apology Over Deeds During World War Two.” Xinhua News Agency. December 10, 1999.
June 1995 1995: The International Red Cross Nazi atrocities during World War II

The International Red Cross apologizes for its failure in not denouncing Nazi atrocities during World War II, saying “Our failure to speak out at that time was a moral defeat.”

 

Mitchell, Emily. “Apologies: who’s sorry now?” Index of Censorship. May-June, 1998.
November 1995 1995: Britain Occupying New Zealand Maori land in 1863

Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain approves legislation which “apologizes unreservedly” to New Zealand Maori for taking their land in 1863.  The legislation included a payment of $112 million and the return of 39,000 acres to the Tainui people.

 

 

“Elizabeth II to Approve Maori Land Settlement.” New York Times. November 2, 1995.
19 April 1995 Vietnam Error

Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara regrets that the U.S. did not withdraw from Vietnam in 1964. He says, “We were wrong, terribly wrong.”

Apple, R. W., Jr. “McNamara Recalls, and Regrets, Vietnam.” New York Times. April 9, 1995.
December 1996 1996: Japan- 500 survivors of the 200,000 “comfort women,”

Japanese Prime Minister Ryutara Hashimoto offers a letter of apology and monetary reparations to 500 survivors of the 200,000 “comfort women,” but only six accept.

 

Minow, Martha. Between Vengeance and Forgiveness. Beacon, 1998. p105.
December 1996 1996: Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary apologizes to Families of 11 other citizens injected with radiation

Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary apologizes to the last survivor and announces a $4.8 million settlement for the families of 11 other citizens injected with radiation for experiments on radiation exposure between 1944 and 1974.

August 1996 1996: Former South African president F.W. de Klerk apologizes to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

 Former South African president F.W. de Klerk apologizes to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the “many unacceptable things that occurred during the government of his National Party.

“Apology for Apartheid.” Maclean’s. September 2, 1996.
24 April 1996 1996: PLF apologizes for killing disabled American Leon Klinghoffer

Palestinian terrorist Mohammad (Abu) Abbas of the PLF apologizes for killing disabled American Leon Klinghoffer during the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Largo cruise ship.  A U.S. State Department spokesperson rejects the apology.

“U.S. rejects terrorist’s apology for Klinghoffer murder.” www.cnn.com. April 24, 1996.
26 May 1997 1997: Australia’s parliament tables a report on the removal of aboriginal children-Recommends an apology

Australia’s parliament tables a report on the removal of aboriginal children, which recommends an apology.

Nobles, Melissa. The Politics of Official Apologies. Cambridge, 2008. p163.
15 April 1997 1997: USA apology for the 48-year Tuskegee Syphilis Study

 U.S. President Clinton holds a White House ceremony to apologize for the 48-year Tuskegee Syphilis Study by the U.S. Public Health Service that withheld medical treatment of the disease.  Five of the eight remaining survivors of the study attended the White House ceremony.

Cose, Ellis. “Forgive and Forget?” Newsweek. April 21, 1997.
14 May 1997 1997: South Africa’s F.W. de Klerk makes a renewed apology for apartheid

At South Africa’s TRC, National party leader F.W. de Klerk makes a renewed apology for apartheid.

http://www.justice.gov.za/trc/media/1997/9705/s970514a.htm. Marrus, Michael R. “Official Apologies and the Quest for Historical Justice.” Controversies in Global Politics & Societies. Munk Centre, University of Toronto. 2006.
April 1997 1997: Grenada Imprisoned leaders of the marxist New Jewel Movement (NJM),apologize

Imprisoned leaders of the marxist New Jewel Movement (NJM), which ruled Grenada from 1979 to 1983, issue a letter apologizing for their regime’s acts, especially the killing of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop.

Coard, Bernard. “Revolutionary Regrets.” Harper’s Magazine. April, 1997.
8 April 1997 1997: The CIA apologizes to veterans of the Gulf War

The CIA apologizes to veterans of the Gulf War for failing to alert the military to the danger of old chemical weapons that were stored in a depot, which U.S. troops blew up in the Persian Gulf War.

McAllister, Bill. “CIA Knew In ’84 of Iraq Poison Gas.” Washington Post. April 10, 1997.
22 January 1997 1997: Germany and the Czech Republic conflicts in the 1930s and 1940s

In a joint declaration, foreign ministers from Germany and the Czech Republic apologize to each other for conflicts in the 1930s and 1940s.

Caryl, Christian. “After a half a century, an apology exchange.” U.S. News & World Report. December 23, 1996.
15 January 1997 1997: Switzerland- Jewish organizations seeking compensation for Holocaust

Swiss President Jean-Pascal Delamuraz apologizes for deriding as “blackmailers” the Jewish organizations seeking compensation for Holocaust survivors whose assets were held by Swiss banks.

Martin, Gordon. “Swiss ‘Blackmail’ Apology.” Daily Telegraph. January 16, 1997.
August 1997 1995: Australia Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission apology for forcibly removing mixed-blood children

The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission issues a report recommending an apology and reparations for the Australian government’s policy of forcibly removing mixed-blood children from aboriginal families between 1910 and 1970.

 
Wayne, Anne. “Who’s sorry now? When a nation apologizes.” Sojourners. September-October, 1997; Leo, John. “So who’s sorry now.” U.S. News & World Report. June 30, 1997; Rose, Michael. “Down under: few funds, no apology.” World Press Review. Ma
18 May 1997 1997: Australia, apology to Aboriginal people

In Australia, New South Wales Premier Bob Carr issues an apology to Aboriginal people for the removal of generations of Aboriginal children from their families.

http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/nsw/NE01264. I am indebted to Marilyn Hoey for this item.
June 1997 1997: Britain-Ireland Potato Famine

British Prime Minister Tony Blair expresses regret for English indifference to the plight of the Irish people during the Potato Famine of the 1840s.

Lyall, Sarah. “The Irish Famine and the English.” New York Times. June 8, 1997; Brown, Andrew. “Insincere Apologies.” World Press Review. October, 1997.
6 August 1997 1997: Internal Revenue Service IRS apology to four taxpayers (and by extension to all American taxpayers)

At the conclusion of U.S. Senate Finance committee hearings on Internal Revenue Service abuses, Acting IRS Commissioner Michael P. Dolan issues a public apology to four taxpayers (and by extension to all American taxpayers) for mistreatment at the hands of agency officials.

roder, John M. “Director of I.R.S. Issues an Apology for Agent Abuses.” New York Times. September 26, 1999.
25 September 1997 1997: Israeli's- Labor Party immigration in the 1950s

Ehud Barak asks forgiveness from Israelis of Middle-Eastern and North-African origin and seeks “their forgiveness” for what the “Labor Party had done to them” as immigrants to Israel during the 1950s.

Weingrod, Alex. “Ehud Barak’s Apology.” Israel Studies. Fall, 1998.