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
3 June 2016 2006: USA-Race riot in Wilmington, USA recommends reparations

A state panel studying the 1898 race riot in Wilmington, NC recommends reparations be paid by government and businesses.

DeSantis, John. “Wilmington, N.C., Revisits a Bloody 1898 Day.” New York Times. 6/4/06.
22 July 2016 2006: Canada- the treatment of Chinese immigrants in imposing a head tax

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologizes unreservedly for the treatment of Chinese immigrants in imposing a head tax

Mulgrew, Ian. “Harper’s head-tax apology.” Montreal Gazette. June 23, 2006.
20 September 2016 2006: Canada- Maher Arar deportation from the U.S. to be tortured in Syria

The Canadian House of Commons unanimously apologizes to Maher Arar for permitting his deportation from the U.S. to be tortured in Syria.

Sallot, Jeff and Colin Freeze. “House apologizes for Arar’s treatment.” Globe and Mail. Septmeber 22, 2006.
15 July 2016 2007: Israel offers amnesty to 180 Fatah militants after they pledge to end attacks

 Israel offers amnesty to 180 Fatah militants after they pledge to end attacks.

Entous, Adam. “Israel offers amnesty to Fatah militants.” Montreal Gazette. July 16, 2007.
12 September 2016 2007: 1857 Mountain Meadows massacre of 120 unarmed immigrants in Utah-Mormons

 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) issues an apology for the 1857 Mountain Meadows massacre of 120 unarmed immigrants in Utah.

Moore, Carrie A. “LDS Church issues apology over Mountain Meadows.” Desert News. September 12, 2007.
31 January 2016 2008: Australia- mistreatment of Aboriginal people.

New Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd indicates that the country will apologize for past mistreatment of Aboriginal people.  The previous PM, John Howard, had refused to apologize.

“Australia: PM promises apology.” Montreal Gazette. January 31, 2008.
1 April 2016 2009: Khmer Rouge torturer Kaing Guek Eav (aka Dutch) apologizes

At trial, former Khmer Rouge torturer Kaing Guek Eav (aka Dutch) apologizes for the atrocities he committed in the 1970s.

Mydans, Seth. “Apology Offered at Khmer Rouge Trial.” New York Times. April 1, 2009.
15 December 2016 2009: Canada apologizes for failures that permitted sex abuse at religious and correctional institutions

The government of Ontario, Canada apologizes for failures that permitted sex abuse at religious and correctional institutions in the city of Cornwall.

Greenberg, Lee and Meaghan Hurley. “Ontario apologizes for sex abuse.” Montreal Gazette. December 16, 2009.
21 August 2016 2011: AL Sharpton offers a quasi-apology for inflammatory remarks riots in Crown Heights, NY

 In the U.S., Al Sharpton offers a quasi-apology for inflammatory remarks he made twenty years earlier, after the 1991 riots in Crown Heights, NY.  

8 December 2016 2011: Japan apologizes for the mistreatment of captured Canadian soldiers during World War II.

The Japanese government apologizes for the mistreatment of captured Canadian soldiers during World War II.

Abma, Derek. “Japan apologizes for PoW treatment.” Montreal Gazette. December 9, 2011.
23 February 2016 2012: USA apology to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai for American military personnel burning Korans,

U.S. President Barack Obama sends a letter of apology to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai for American military personnel burning Korans, which had sparked days of violent protests.

Rubin, Alissa J. “Obama Sends Apology as Afghan Koran Protests Rage.” New York Times. February 23, 2012.
10 April 2016 2014: USA Iran Barry Rosen - 444-day kidnapping in 1979-80

Former Iranian hostage Barry Rosen bemoans the lack of an official apology for his 444-day kidnapping in 1979-80.

Rosen, Barry. “Hearing No Apology, a Hostage Can’t Forgive.” (“Room For Debate.”) New York Times. April 10, 2014.
5 January 2016 2015: Japan apologies for Japan’s wartime misdeeds.

 New nationalist Japanese PM Shinzo Abe issues a reassurance that he will reiterate past apologies for Japan’s wartime misdeeds.

“Abe says to stick to Japan apology in WWII statement.” channelnewsasia.com Jan 5, 2015.
28 January 2016 2015: USA clears 9 African Americans jailed anti-segregation protest 54 years earlier

A court in Rock Hill, SC clears 9 African American men who were jailed for an anti-segregation protest 54 years earlier.

Fausset, Richard. “54 Years later, South Carolina Court Clears ‘Friendship Nine.’” New York Times. Jan 28, 2015.
24 August 2016 2015: South Korean President Park Geun-hye asks for an apology from North Korea over recent provocations

 South Korean President Park Geun-hye asks for an apology from North Korea over recent provocations.

Mullen, Jethro and Kyung Lah. “South Korea demands apology as talks drag on with North over tensions.” www.cnn.com. August 24, 2015.
24 August 2016 2015: South Korean North Korea provocations

  South Korean President Park Geun-hye asks for an apology from North Korea over recent provocations.

Mullen, Jethro and Kyung Lah. “South Korea demands apology as talks drag on with North over tensions.” www.cnn.com. August 24, 2015.
28 August 2016 2015: Monaco apologizes for his country’s deportation of Jews during World War II

  Prince Albert II of Monaco apologizes for his country’s deportation of Jews during World War II and asks for forgiveness.

“Monaco: Prince asks Jews for forgiveness.” Montreal Gazette. August 28, 2015.
7 October 2016 2015: USA-Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan bombed

President Obama apologizes for the bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan.

Shear, Michael and Somini Sengupta. “Obama Issues Rare Apology Over Bombing of Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Afghanistan.” New York Times. October 7, 2015.
26 October 2016 2015: Britain- intelligence mistakes- invasion of Iraq in 2003.

 Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair apologizes for intelligence mistakes made in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Mullen, Jethro. “Tony Blair says he’s sorry for Iraq War ‘mistakes,’ but not for ousting Saddam.” www.cnn.com. October 26, 2015.
2 November 2016 2015: USA Delaware pardons Samuel D. Burris, 168 years after he was found guilty of helping slaves escape to freedom

 Delaware Governor Jack Markell posthumously pardons Samuel D. Burris, 168 years after he was found guilty of helping slaves escape to freedom.

Victor, Daniel. “Delaware Pardons an Underground Railroad ‘Hero.’” New York Times. November 2, 2015.