Political Apologies

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.

Displaying 226 - 250 of 823
Date of Apology Title Summary Source
November 1998 Indonesian armed forces death of a dozen demonstrators

Indonesian armed forces apologize in ads in local newspapers for killing a dozen demonstrators earlier in the month.

Whitaker, Raymond. “Flat Earth.” The Independent. November 22, 1998.
November 1998 Catholic Church- India Colonial Association

The Catholic Priests’ Conference of India demands an apology from the Catholic Church for its association with colonial forces in Africa, Asia, and Latin America

Malcolm, Teresa. “Priests Demand Apology for Aiding of Colonialism.” National Catholic Reporter. November 20, 1998.
November 1998 Portugeuse commander apologizes for Mozambique killings.

At a memorial in Mozambique, Portuguese veteran Antonino Melo apologizes for the massacre of hundreds of people in the village of Wiriyamu by Portuguese commandos in Operation Marosca on December 16, 1972.

“Regresso a Wiriyamu.” TV documentary by Felicia Cabrita and Fundacao Mario. Lisbon: November, 1998; Stock, Robert. “The Many Returns to Wiriyamu.” Chapter in (Re)Imagining African Independence. Maria do Carmo Picarra and Teresa Castro, eds. Peter Lang, 2017. p99.
30 December 1998 Khmer Rouge apologize for genocide in Cambodia.

In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, one week after they surrendered to authorities in exchange for amnesty, two former officials of the Khmer Rouge – Khieu Samphan and Nuon Che – make the first ever apology for the genocide of the mid-1970s, but it is a minimal apology, with no remorse. One of the men says, “Sorry, very sorry,” and “Let bygones be bygones.”

Richburg, Keith B. “A Small Apology to the Dead.” Washington Post. December 30, 1998.
1999 Christian militia, publishes a public letter of apology- Lebanon civil

February 10, 1999:  As’ad Shaftari, a former officer of a violent Christian militia, publishes a public letter of apology for killings and torture he ordered during Lebanon’s civil war.

Young, Michael. “The Sneer of Memory.” Middle East Report. Winter, 2000. p42.
1999 Catholic Church- Past Errors

Pope John Paul II asks forgiveness for the past errors of the Catholic Church but did not specify any such errors.

“Pope Repeats an Apology.” New York Times. September 2, 1999.
5 January 1999 The U.S. Department of Agriculture -African American farmers lawsuit

The U.S. Department of Agriculture settles a 1996 class action lawsuit by agreeing to pay African American farmers $50,000 each, to compensate for a history of biased federal loan practices.

7 January 1999 U.S. Latin American Japanese World War II internees

 A U.S. federal judge approves a June, 1998 settlement between the U.S. government and Latin American Japanese World War II internees which will give then an official apology from President Clinton and reparations of $5,000 each.

WWII internees get 5,000 dollars, official apology.” Daily Yomiuri. January 9, 1999.
11 January 1999 Rouge leaders, apologize to the Cambodian people

Two former Khmer Rouge leaders, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, apologize to the Cambodian people for the nearly two million people killed from 1975 to 1979.

Spaeth, Anthony. “Apologies and Outrage.” Time International. January 11, 1999; Mydans, Seth. “Word to the Dead: We’ve Put the Past to Rest.” New York Times. May 21, 1999.
3 February 1999 USA Televangelist Antichrist is (or will be) Jewish

In the U.S., Rev. Jerry Falwell apologizes for having said that the Antichrist is (or will be) Jewish.

“Falwell Apologizes After Angering Jews.” Los Angeles Times. February 3, 1999.
5 March 1999 USA apologizes for deaths at Italian ski resort

 U.S. President Clinton apologizes for deaths at Italian ski resort caused by a U.S. jet striking a gondola cable. 

“The President’s news conference with Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema of Italy.” Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documentaries. March 8, 1999.
10 March 1999 U.S.expresses remorse for support of right-wing governments in Guatemala

U.S. President Bill Clinton expresses remorse for U.S. support of right-wing governments in Guatemala that killed at least tens of thousands of rebels and Mayan Indians.

Broder, John M. “Clinton Offers His Apologies to Guatemala.” New York Times. March 11, 1999.
14 March 1999 Guatemala atrocities committed during their 36-year civil war

Former Guatemala rebels apologize for atrocities committed during their 36-year civil war.

“Former Rebels Issue Apology in Guatemala.” New York Times. March 14, 1999.
10 May 1999 U.S.-China NATO’s bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade

U.S. President Bill Clinton apologizes for NATO’s bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, which killed three Chinese and journalists and injured 20 others.

Perlez, Jane. “Crisis in the Balkans.” New York Times. May 11, 1999.
11 May 1999 Ireland apologizes to survivors of child abuse in industrial and reform schools

The Prime Minister (Taoiseach) of Ireland apologizes to survivors of child abuse in industrial and reform schools.

12 May 1999 Germany-China NATO’s bombing of China’s Belgrade Embassy

 German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan and expresses an unconditional apology for NATO’s bombing of China’s Belgrade Embassy

“Schroder Expresses Unconditional Apology for Attack on Chinese Embassy.” Xinhua News Agency. May 12, 1999.
16 June 1999 USA-bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade

U.S. State Department Under Secretary Thomas Pickering apologizes in Beijing for the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. 

“America Says Sorry, Again.” The Economist. June 19, 1999.
16 July 1999 Christians-Jews The crusades

 After a “Reconciliation Walk” across Europe, several hundred members of a Christian group apologize to religious leaders in Jerusalem for the mass killings of Muslims, Jews, and Byzantine Christians 900 years ago during the Crusades.

Sontag, Deborah. “Israel: Apology for Crusades.” New York Times. July 16, 1999; Dixon, Thomas. “Crusaders to Enter Israel.” Christianity Today. April 5, 1999.
28 July 1999 South Africa’s Natal Law Society,-barring Gandhi from practicing law

South Africa’s Natal Law Society, the equivalent of the bar association, apologizes “unconditionally” for barring Mohandas Gandhi from practicing law in 1894 because of his race.  David Randles, president of the Natal Law Society, made the apology to “all other aspirant lawyers whose access to the profession was restricted in any way on the basis of racial grounds.”

Daley, Suzanne. “For Gandhi (d. 1948), a Long Due Apology.” New York Times. July 29, 1999.
11 August 1999 President Clinton commutes sentences of FALN members

President Bill Clinton offers to commute the sentences of sixteen members of the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), a terrorist group that sought independence for Puerto Rico, on the condition that they renounce violence

Fisher, Louis. “When Presidential Power Backfires: Clinton’s Use of Clemency.” Presidential Studies Quarterly. Vol. 32, No. 3 (Sept., 2002).
27 August 1999 Australia apologizes for past mistreatment of Aborigines

 Australian Prime Minister John Howard apologizes for past mistreatment of Aborigines.

“Australia Apologizes for Treatment of Aborigines.” New York Times. August 27, 1999.
31 August 1999 Japan upholds ruling rejecting demands from 369 South Koreans

The Tokyo High Court upholds a lower court’s ruling rejecting demands from 369 South Koreans for an official government apology and compensation.

“Japan: Koreans’ Plea Rejected.” New York Times. August 31, 1999.
3 September 1999 Denmark Forced displacement of Greenland Inuits from their home

Denmark Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen apologizes for the way his country forced Greenland Inuits from their homes in 1953 to make room for an expansion of a U.S. airbase.

Denmark: Apology to Inuits.” New York Times. September 3, 1999.
8 September 1999 New York Archbishop - Jewish friends

New York Archbishop John Cardinal O’Connor writes to his Jewish friends: “I ask this Yom Kippur that you understand my own abject sorrow for any member of the Catholic Church, high or low, including myself, who may have harmed you or your forbears in any way.”

NY Times. September 19, 1995. (Letter published by Victor Barnett, Elie Wiesel, and James Wolfensohn.)
13 September 1999 Libya American and European reparations to Africans for slavery

Libyan leader Col. Moammar Kadhafi says Americans and European powers should apologize and pay reparations to Africans for slavery.

“Kadhafi Calls for Reparations.” Africa News Service. September 13, 1999.