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
12 May 2013 2013: France 150 Algerians Algeria’s war of independence

In Paris, 150 Algerians who fought for France during Algeria’s war for independence demand that French President Francois Hollande honor a campaign pledge to officially recognize heir abandonment by France during its retreat in 1962, which led to massacres

“Algerians Who Fought for France Want Recognition.” New York Times. May 12, 2013.
25 May 2013 2013: Two former Korean sex salves demand justification- Japan’s wartime practice of forced Prostitution

 Two former Korean sex salves demand that Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto resign for trying to justify Japan’s wartime practice of forcing thousands of Asian women into prostitution.

“Former Sex Slaves Demand Mayor Resign.” Montreal Gazette. May 25, 2013. pA18.
4 June 2013 2013: Turkey-crackdown on demonstrators/ raising down Gezi Park

 In Turkey, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc apologizes for a crackdown on demonstrators protesting plans to raze Gezi Park in Istanbul.  (Demonstrators had called for Prime Minister  Recep Tayyip Erdogan to apologize for the police action that had left over 1,5000 hospitalized.)  Arinc’s statement said in part, “I apologize for the police aggression against our citizens.”

Johnson, Glen and Patrick J. Mcdonnell. “Turkish official offers apology.” Philadelphia Inquirer. June 5, 2013; Arsu, Sebnem. “Turkish Official Apologizes for Force Used at Start of Riots.” New York Times. June 4, 2013; Peker, Emre, et al. “Turkish
6 June 2013 2013: Britain agrees to pay £19.9 million in compensation to 5,228 Kenyans

In order to settle a lawsuit, Great Britain agrees to pay £19.9 million in compensation to 5,228 Kenyans who were tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s.

Anderson, David M. “Atoning for the Sins of Empire.” New York Times. June 12, 2013.
25 July 2013 2013: Caricom-reparations and formal apologies for the Atlantic slave trade from Great Britain

 Caricom (an association of 15 Caribbean countries) launches an effort to obtain reparations and formal apologies for the Atlantic slave trade from Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands.

Fox, Ben. “Caribbean Nations Seeking Compensation for Slavery.” Associated Press. July 25, 2013.
21 August 2013 2013: German chancellor to visits the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau

Angela Merkel becomes the first German chancellor to visit the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, where she expresses “deep sorrow and shame” for the crimes of the Nazi regime.

Vasagar, Jeevan. “Merkel expresses sorrow, shame on first official visit to Dachau.” Montreal Gazette. August 21, 2013. pA20.
August 2013 2013: China-Zhang Hongbing expressed regrets for Cultural Revolution

 The Chinese government reports that Zhang Hongbing expressed regrets for politically criticizing his mother when he was a 16-year old boy in 1970 during the Cultural Revolution; his mother was then shot to death as a counter-revolutionary.

Hua, Yu. “China Waits for an Apology.” New York Times. April 9, 2014.
30 September 2013 2013: Afghanistan reconciliation - 5,000 people killed between 1978 and 1979

Shortly after the release of the names of nearly 5,000 people who were killed by the Afghan Communist government between 1978 and 1979, Afghan President Hamid Karzai says that reconciliation is more important than prosecution.

Nordland, Rod. “Old Atrocities, Now Official, Galvanize Afghanistan.” New York Times. September 30, 2013.
23 October 2013 2013: USA Pennsylvania law allowing doctors to apologize to patients

 Pennsylvania Governor Corbett says he will sign a law allowing doctors to apologize to patients when a procedure does not go as planned, without it being used against them in court.  36 other states have similar laws that prevent medical apologies from being invoked in malpractice litigation.

Worden, Amy. “Corbett to sign bill allowing doctors to apologize.” Philly.com. October 23, 2013.
23 December 2013 2013: USA. Germany Chancellor NSA bugging of cellphone

U.S. President Barack Obama apologizes to German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the NSA bugging her cellphone.

Sappenfield, Mark. “German spy scandal: Should Obama have apologized?” Christian Science Monitor. October 27, 2013.
20 November 2013 2013: USA Alabama posthumously pardons three “Scottsboro boys”

 The State of Alabama posthumously pardons three African American men (the last of the nine “Scottsboro boys”) who were falsely convicted of raping two white women on a train in 1931.

Nov 21, 2013. Blinder, Alan. “With Last 3 Pardons, Alabama Hopes to Put Infamous ‘Scottsboro Boys’ Case to Rest.” New York Times. November 21, 2013.
28 November 2013 2013: USA Afghanistan- apology to drone strike that killed a child

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan apologizes to President Hamid Karzai for a drone strike that killed a child.

Quinn, Patrick. “Karzai gets apology from U.S. for drone strike that killed child.” Montreal Gazette. November 30, 2013.
30 November 2013 2013: USA Afghanistan apology for American military mistakes during the 12-year war

When the U.S. and Afghanistan finalize a bilateral security agreement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry denies that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had sought an apology for American military mistakes during the 12-year war.

Shanker, Thom and Rod Nordland. “Afghan Pact Would Keep U.S. Troops Until 2004.” New York Times. November 30, 2013.
1 December 2013 2013: North Korea -video of 85-year old captured American veteran Merrill Newman

North Korea releases a video of 85-year old captured American veteran Merrill Newman apologizing for hostile acts he committed during the Korean War.  He is released after the apology.

Perlez, Jane. “North Korea Releases a Video of U.S. Veteran Confessing to ‘Hostile Acts.’” New York Times. December 1, 2013.
9 December 2013 2013: Canada Ontario-neglect and abuse of patients at a provincial facility

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne apologizes for the neglect and abuse of patients at a provincial facility for people with developmental disabilities decades ago.

Loriggio, Paola. “Ontario apologizes for abuse.” Montreal Gazette. December 10, 2013.
6 February 2013 U.K. for hospital failures.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron apologizes to the families of hundreds patients who suffered neglect and abuse between 2005 and 2009 at Stafford Hospital and pledges to improve patient care and end complacency at the national health service.

“Mid Staffs scandal: Cameron apologises and vows to tackle NHS ‘complacency.’” The Guardian. February 6, 2013.
19 January 2014 2014: USA New Jersey traffic jam orchestrated by his aides

  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie apologizes for a traffic jam orchestrated by his aides to punish a mayor who did not endorse his candidacy.

Fleisher, Lisa, et al. “Chris Christie Moves to Contain Fallout From Bridge Scandal.” Wall Street Journal. Janueary 9, 2014.
12 January 2014 2014: Chinese Red Guard Song Binbin killing of high school vice principal Bian Zhongyun in August 1966

Former Chinese Red Guard member Song Binbin apologizes for failing to stop the killing of high school vice principal Bian Zhongyun in August 1966 during the Cultural Revolution.

Han, Xiao. “Confessions of the Cultural Revolution.” New York Times. January 26, 2014.
6 February 2014 2014: France reparations for Holocaust survivors in the U.S.

The French government begins talks on paying reparations for Holocaust survivors in the U.S.  (The action would ease lawsuits and permit a French company to build high-speed rail systems in the U.S.)

Phelps, Timothy M. “France considers reparations for Holocaust survivors in U.S.” Los Angeles Times. February 21, 2014.
6 February 2014 2014: Roman Catholic Legionaries of Christ- victims of sexually abuse

 A day after the release of a United Nations report on child abuse by priests, delegates from Roman Catholic order known as the Legionaries of Christ apologize to victims who were sexually abused as children by its founder, Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado.

Reuters. “Legionaries of Christ Denounce Founder, Marcial Maciel Degollado.” New York Times. February 6, 2014