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
4 April 2001 2001: China-USA collision between a U.S. Navy spy and a jet Chinese fighter jet

 Chinese President Jiang Zemin demands that the United States apologize for the collision between a U.S. Navy spy jet and a Chinese fighter jet.

“Jiang again demands U.S. apology.” United Press International. April 4, 2001.
4 April 2001 2001: USA-collision of a U.S. spy plane with a Chinese fighter jet,

Secretary of State Colin Powell refuses to apologize to China for the collision of a U.S. spy plane with a Chinese fighter jet, saying “there is nothing to apologize for.”

Sanger, David. “Collision with China.” New York Times. April, 2001.
11 April 2001 2001: USA- China collision between a US intelligence plane and a Chinese fighter jet

The U.S. sends China a formal statement of regret over the midair collision between a US intelligence plane and a Chinese fighter jet, but the Bush administration insists “there is no apology.”

Sanger, David. “U.S. Sends Beijing Formal Statement Expressing Regret.” New York Times. April 11, 2001.
4 May 2001 2001: Catholic Church the sack of Constantinople in 1204

 Pope John Paul II apologizes for the Church’s role in the sack of Constantinople in 1204.

Fisher, Ian. “In a Gesture of Conciliation, the Pope Returns Orthodox Relics.” New York Times. 11/28/04.
24 May 2001 2001: Japan apologizes for forcing lepers to live in isolation

Japan apologizes for forcing lepers to live in isolation decades after cures were available and agrees to pay $15 million to plaintiffs who successfully challenged laws that isolated them.

Sims, Calvin. “Japan Apologizes to Lepers and Declines to Fight Isolation Ruling.” New York Times. May 24, 2001.
28 May 2001 2001: Catholic Church of Poland -complicity in the killing of 1,6000 Jews

 The Roman Catholic Church of Poland apologizes for complicity in the killing of 1,6000 Jews in Jedwabne during World War II.

“Catholic apology to Jews.” New York Times. May 28, 2001.
7 June 2001 2001: Germany Max Planck Society-Experiments at concentration camps during the Nazi era.

The head of Germany’s premier basic research organization, the Max Planck Society, apologizes on behalf of its forerunner, the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, some of whose scientists were implicated in medical experiments at concentration camps during the Nazi era.

Koenig, Robert. “Max Planck Offers Historic Apology.” Science. June 15, 2001.
23 June 2001 2001: Australia- mistreatment of Aborigines

 

Australian Prime Minister John Howard says he is personally sorry for mistreatment of Aborigines but opposes a formal national apology because it could encourage claims for compensation.

“Australia: no apology to Aborigines.” New York Times. June 23, 2001.
4 July 2001 2001: Russia-ethnic Germans in Russia

 Russia’s Duma passes a resolution calling on the president “to apologize on the state's behalf to ethnic Germans in Russia who, in the years of reprisals, lived in the USSR territory, met with arbitrariness, were forcibly resettled and restricted in rights for many years.”

“Duma resolution favors apology to ethnic Germans.” ITAR/TASS News Agency. July 4, 2001.
9 July 2001 2001: Canada-Chinese head tax.

  In Canada, the Ontario Superior Court dismisses the case Mack v. Canada, in which plaintiffs sought an apology and redress for the Chinese head tax.

http://www.roadtojustice.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Mack_v_Canada_2001_OSCOJ.pdf
10 July 2001 2001: Poland- massacre of Polish Jews during World War II

 Polish President Kwasniewski apologizes for the massacre of Polish Jews during World War II.

Nobles, Melissa. The Politics of Official Apologies. Cambridge, 2008. p160.
18 August 2001 2001: Khmer Rouge- loss of life between 1975 and 1979

 Former Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan apologizes for the loss of life between 1975 and 1979 but denies having knowledge of atrocities, saying “My mistake was that I was too naïve and was out of touch with the real situation.”

Mydans, Seth. “Cambodia: Khmer Rouge apology.” New York Times. August 18, 2001.
4 September 2001 2001: Britain -refuses to apologize for slavery,

 British Prime Minister Tony Blair refuses to apologize for slavery, blocking a European Union action.

People’s Daily. September 4, 2001. http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/english/200109/04/eng20010904_79267.html
24 December 2001 2001: Canada apologizes for the execution of 23 Canadian soldiers by allied firing squads

Canada’s House of Commons apologizes for the execution of 23 Canadian soldiers by allied firing squads for desertion or cowardice in World War I, saying the punishment was too harsh.  (The Canadians were among 306 Commonwealth soldiers shot for desertion between 1914 and 1918.)  The apology does not erase their convictions.

Shaw, Geoffrey. “The ‘sorry’ state of history.” Alberta Report. February 4, 2002. See also “A belated apology.” Maclean’s. December 24, 2001.
22 November 2001 2001: Pope John Paul II issues an apology for sex abuse by priests

 Pope John Paul II issues an apology for sex abuse by priests.

Allen, John L., Jr. “Vatican moves to address sex abuse problem.” National Catholic Reporter. December 7, 2001
8 October 2001 2001: Japan apologizes for Chinese who lost their lives in World War II

 Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi apologizes and expresses condolences in China for those Chinese who lost their lives in World War II.

 

 
“Japanese PM Expresses Heartfelt Apology Over Aggression.” Xinhua News Agency. October 8, 2001.
3 October 2001 2001: Human rights leaders in Nigeria demand a public apology -ousting democratically-elected governments

Human rights leaders in Nigeria demand a public apology from former military leaders for intermittently ousting democratically-elected governments from office

“Rights Groups Demand Apology From Past Military Leaders.” Africa News Service. October 3, 2001.
22 September 2001 2001: South African Xhosa prince Xhanti Sigcawu calls for direct talks with Queen Elizabeth

 South African Xhosa prince Xhanti Sigcawu calls for direct talks with Queen Elizabeth to clarify her statements about expressing guilt and/or formally apologizing for colonizing Africa.

 

 
“South Africa: Royal Tete-A-Tete?” New York Times. September 22, 2001.
27 September 2001 2001: Myoshin-ji sect of Buddhism- religion’s past ties to militarism

The leaders of the Myoshin-ji sect of Zen Buddhism apologize in Japan for their religion’s past ties to militarism.  The leaders acknowledge that their apology is largely motivated by Brian Victoria’s 1997 book “Zen at War,” which details the relationship between Zen leaders and the Japanese military in World War II.

Jalon, Allan M. “Meditating On War And Guilt, Zen Says It’s Sorry.” New York Times. January 11, 2003.
18 September 2001 2001: Rev. Jerry Falwell -Robertson’s television show remarks on September 11

After being criticized by the White House and Pat Robertson, the Rev. Jerry Falwell apologizes for saying on Robertson’s television show “The 700 Club” that God had allowed terrorists to attack America on September 11 because of civil liberties groups, abortion rights supporters, and feminists.

“Falwell: I Blew It.” cbsnews.com. September 18, 2001.