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
26 March 2016 1998: USA Inaction during the Rwanda genocide

U.S. President Clinton apologizes for inaction during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

Mitchell, Emily. “Apologies: who’s sorry now?” Index of Censorship. May-June, 1998.
16 June 2016 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.
2016 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.
2016 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.
4 July 2016 2000: USA sale of slaves

The Hartford Courant newspaper apologizes for having published advertisements for the sale of slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Zielbauer, Paul. “A Newspaper Apologizes for Salve-Era Ads.” New York Times. July 6, 2000.
24 July 2016 2000: Indonesia apology for dismissing two ministers

In an effort to reduce political tension, Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid apologizes for dismissing two ministers in May.

“Most Indonesian House Factions Accept President’s Apology.” Xinhua News Agency. July 24, 2000.
14 October 2016 2002: The Rev. Jerry Falwell apologizes for calling the Prophet Muhammad a “terrorist”

The Rev. Jerry Falwell apologizes for calling the Prophet Muhammad a “terrorist” during a recent television interview.  Muslim leaders welcome the apology.

“Muslims Welcome Falwell’s Apology.” New York Times. October 14, 2002.
27 October 2016 2002: Russia apologizes to the families of dozens of hostages

Russian President Vladimir Putin apologizes on television to the families of dozens of hostages who died when special forces gassed the theater where they were being held by Chechen rebels.

“Hostage victims died from gas.” cnn.com. October 27, 2002.
30 January 2016 2003: Cambodia - compensation to Thailand for a riot that damaged the Thai embassy

Cambodia apologizes and promises to pay compensation to Thailand for a riot that damaged the Thai embassy and Thai-owned businesses in Phnom Penh.  Several days late, the Thai king accepts the apology.

“Cambodia Apologizes to Thailand Over Riot. New York Times. January 31, 2003; Mydans, Seth. “Thailand: Apologies From Cambodia Accepted.’ New York Times. February 5, 2003.
16 April 2016 2003: South African President Thabo Mbeki says the country will pay $85 million in reparations to 19,000 victims of apartheid crimes

South African President Thabo Mbeki says the country will pay $85 million in reparations to 19,000 victims of apartheid crimes who testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Thompson, Ginger. “South Africa to Pay $3,900 to Each Family of Apartheid Victims.” New York Times. 4/16/03.
16 August 2016 2003: An American who fled Estonia 60 years ago donates $2 million to build a Museum

An American who fled Estonia 60 years ago donates $2 million to build a Museum of Occupations in Tallinn to chronicle atrocities committed by the Nazi and Soviet occupations.

“60 Years After Fleeing, Woman Helps Estonia Recall Its Sad Past.” New York Times. August 16, 2003.
9 May 2016 2003: Hapsburg dynasty ask the Austrian government to return properties seized by the Nazis

Using a law intended to help Jewish victims of the Holocaust, the heirs to the Hapsburg dynasty ask the Austrian government to return properties seized by the Nazis on the eve of World War II

Green, Peter. “Hapsburgs Ask Austria to Return Estates Seized by Nazis.” New York Times. May 10, 2003.
14 June 2016 2003: Members of the Hatfield and McCoy families sign a truce

Members of the Hatfield and McCoy families sign a truce to officially end the deadly feud that dated to the 19th century.  (The feud essentially ended in 1891, and the families shook hands in 1976.)

“Official End Of Legendary Feud.” CBC News. February 11, 2009.
30 August 2016 2003 Denmark’s cooperation with Nazi occupiers

In a speech marking the 60th anniversary of the Nazi surrender, Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen publicly condemns for the first time Denmark’s cooperation with Nazi occupiers in World War II.

Denmark: Apology for Cooperation with Nazis.” New York Times. 8/30/03.
25 November 2016 2006: Chile- Augusto Pinochet accepts responsibility for wrongs

 Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet accepts responsibility for wrongs committed during his 18-year rule.

“Pinochet ‘takes responsibility.’” www.bbc.com. November 25, 2006.
25 February 2016 2007: USA-Virginia state’s role in slavery

Virginia’s state legislature passes a resolution expressing “profound regret” over the state’s role in slavery.

Maryland issues apology for its role in slavery.” Associated Press. March 27, 2007.
2016 2007: USA politicized firing of eight federal attorneys in 2006

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales apologizes for the politicized firing of eight federal attorneys in 2006.

Eggen, Dan. “Gonzales issues mea culpa.” Montreal Gazette. March 19, 2007.
26 March 2016 2007: Britain “deep sorrow and regret” for Britain’s role in slavery

U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair expresses “deep sorrow and regret” for Britain’s role in slavery.

Ward, David. “Archbishop of York urges PM to apologise for slavery.” The Guardian. March 26, 2007.
28 March 2016 2007: Canada-settlement with survivors of Indian residential schools

The Canadian government announces that it will not include an apology in its settlement with survivors of Indian residential schools.

Curry, Bill. “No residential school apology, Tories say.” Globe and Mail. March 27, 2007.
19 April 2016 2006: USA legislature passes a bill to posthumously pardon civil rights icons

 The Alabama state legislature passes a bill to posthumously pardon civil rights icons Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as hundreds of others arrested for violating racial segregation laws.

“Alabama nears pardon for Parks, King.” Montreal Gazette. 4/19/06. pA19.