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
2 October 1997 1997: Indonesia-fires that caused pollution over much of southeast Asia

Indonesian President Suharto apologizes for the forest fires that caused pollution over much of southeast Asia.

Cohen, Margot and Murray Hiebert. “Where’s there’s smoke…” Far Eastern Economic Review. October 2, 1997.
8 October 1997 1997: International Red Cross-the Holocaust

George Willemin of the International Red Cross apologizes for the organization’s “moral failure” for keeping silent during the Holocaust.

“Red Cross official apologies for group’s stance in Holocaust.” www.jta.org. October 8, 1997.
10 October 1997 1997: Chicago City Council Apology-Catherine O’Leary and her cow The great fire of 1871

A Chicago City Council committee supports a resolution absolving Catherine O’Leary and her cow for blame for allegedly starting the great fire of 1871.

Knowlton, Brian. “American Topics: Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow Knew it All Along.” New York Times. October 10, 1997
14 October 1997 1997: Britain-India Amritsar (India) massacre

Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain pays homage and contrition for the 1912 Amritsar (India) massacre.

 

Nobles, Melissa. The Politics of Official Apologies. Cambridge, 2008. p159.
October 1997 1997: Norway apologies for injustices against the Sami

Norwegian King Harold apologies for injustices against the Sami.

Nobles, Melissa. The Politics of Official Apologies. Cambridge, 2008. p159.
November 1997 1997: Russia apologizes for the mistakes of the Bolshevik Revolution,

Russian President Boris Yeltsin apologizes for the mistakes of the Bolshevik Revolution, on its 80th anniversary.

Bowman, James. “Sorry about that.” New Criterion. May, 1998.
7 January 1998 1998: Canada-Mistreatment of indigenous peoples

The Canadian government formally apologizes for its historic mistreatment of indigenous peoples.

DePalma, Anthony. “Canada’s Indigenous Tribes Receive Formal Apology.” New York Times. January 8, 1998; http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100015725/1100100015726
January 1998 1998: France- the “judicial error” of the Dreyfus affair

French President Jacques Chirac apologizes for the “judicial error” of the Dreyfus affair on the 100-year anniversary of Emile Zola’s “J-accuse.”

Bowman, James. “Sorry about that.” New Criterion. May, 1998; Askwith, Richard. “The Year of Saying Sorry.” Daily Telegraph. December 26, 1998.
January 1998 1998: Japan-Britain Japan’s treatment of British POWs

Japanese Prime Minister Ryutara Hashiomoto offers his “heartfelt apology” to the British government and expresses “Deep remorse” for Japan’s treatment of British POWs in World War II.

Mitchell, Emily. “Apologies: who’s sorry now?” Index of Censorship. May-June, 1998; Askwith, Richard. “The Year of Saying Sorry.” Daily Telegraph. December 26, 1998.
20 February 1998 1998: Anglican Church of Australia participation in removing aboriginal children

The Anglican Church of Australia apologizes for its participation in the policy of forcibly removing aboriginal children from their mothers.

Mitchell, Emily. “Apologies: who’s sorry now?” Index of Censorship. May-June, 1998.
16 March 1998 1998: Catholic Church-the Holocaust

The Vatican apologizes for its silence and inaction during the Holocaust.

Henry, Patrick. “The French Catholic Church’s Apology.” The French Review. May, 1999; Askwith, Richard. “The Year of Saying Sorry.” Daily Telegraph. December 26, 1998.
March 1998 1998: USA-Slavery

In Uganda, President Clinton says that “European Americans received the fruits of the slave trade.  And we were wrong in that.”

Brookhiser, Richard. “America the Apologetic.” American Heritage. December, 1998.
January 1998 1998: Britain-Northern Ireland “Bloody Sunday” massacre in Northern Ireland

British Prime Minister Tony Blair apologizes for the 1972 “Bloody Sunday” massacre in Northern Ireland.

Bowman, James. “Sorry About That.” New Criterion. May, 1998; Askwith, Richard. “The Year of Saying Sorry.” Daily Telegraph. December 26, 1998.
October 1998 1998: The United Church of Canada apology to former students of Indian residential schools

The United Church of Canada apologizes to former students of Indian residential schools.

http://www.united-church.ca/aboriginal/relationships/apologies
October 1998 1998: Argentina-Falklands War

Argentinian President Carlos Menem expresses regret over the Falklands War.

Askwith, Richard. “The Year of Saying Sorry.” Daily Telegraph. December 26, 1998.
October 1998 1998: Japan- South Korean apology” for inflicting “heavy damage and pain” on Koreans

 Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi gives visiting South Korean President Kim Dae Jung a written statement saying that Japan “expressed deep remorse and extended a heartfelt apology” for inflicting “heavy damage and pain” on Koreans.

22 April 1998 1998: South Korean compensation from Japan for “comfort women”

South Korean President Kim Dae Woo announces that the South Korean government will end its efforts to gain official compensation from the Japanese government for “comfort women” but will still seek an official apology and will not prevent individuals from seeking compensation.

Strom, Stephanie. “Soul Won’t Seek Japan Funds for War’s Brothel Women.” New York Times. April 22, 1998.
27 March 1998 1998: Japan court dismisses claims from Korean “comfort women”

 A Japanese court dismisses claims from Korean “comfort women” for an official apology and compensation, saying that even though the women had suffered greatly, the Japanese government was under no legal obligation to provide either an apology or compensation.

Okada, Taihei. “Translations: The ‘Comfort Women’ Case.” 8 Pac. Rim L. & Pol’y. 63. January, 1999; Totsuka, Etsuro. “Translations: Commentary on a Victory for ‘Comfort Women.’” 8 Pac. Rim L. & Pol’y. 47. January, 1999.
27 April 1998 1998: The Germany-Bombing the Spanish village of Guernica

The German Parliament formally apologizes for bombing the Spanish village of Guernica on behalf of Gen. Francisco Franco on April 26, 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.

Goodman, Al. “Spain: Parliament Blames Franco.” New York Times. June 25, 1999.
April 1998 1998: USA Mayor Rudolph Giuliani apologizes to the family of Yankel Rosenbaum,

In the name of all New Yorkers, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani apologizes to the family of Yankel Rosenbaum, a Hasidic man killed during the 1991 Crown Heights riots, and to the Hasidic community for the allegedly inadequate police response to the riots.  In the course of the apology, Giuliani also criticizes the family of a child whose death in an automobile sparked the riots.

Who’s sorry now?” Commonweal. April 24, 1998