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 151 - 175 of 755
Date of Apology Title Summary Source
23 September 1996 USA seven undecorated, heroic African-American World War II soldiers

 U.S. President Clinton apologizes to seven undecorated, heroic African-American World War II soldiers.

Solis, Suzanne Espinosa. “Seven Black Soldiers Honored as World War II Heroes.” San Francisco Chronicle. September 24, 1996.
December 1996 Japan- 500 survivors of the 200,000 “comfort women,”

Japanese Prime Minister Ryutara Hashimoto offers a letter of apology and monetary reparations to 500 survivors of the 200,000 “comfort women,” but only six accept.
 

Minow, Martha. Between Vengeance and Forgiveness. Beacon, 1998. p105.
December 1996 Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary apologizes to Families of 11 other citizens injected with radiation

Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary apologizes to the last survivor and announces a $4.8 million settlement for the families of 11 other citizens injected with radiation for experiments on radiation exposure between 1944 and 1974.

January 1997 North Korea issues a rare apology to South Korea

 North Korea issues a rare apology to South Korea, “expressing deep regret” for the lives lost when its spy submarine ran aground in South Korea in September, 1996 and its soldiers killed three civilians while trying to return home before being killed themselves.  In response, South Korea returns the bodies of the North Korean soldiers.

Bogert, Carrol and Jeffrey Bartholet. “A few cracks in the ice: an apology raises hopes for an end to the last great Cold War standoff.” Newsweek. January 13, 1997.
15 January 1997 Switzerland- Jewish organizations seeking compensation for Holocaust

Swiss President Jean-Pascal Delamuraz apologizes for deriding as “blackmailers” the Jewish organizations seeking compensation for Holocaust survivors whose assets were held by Swiss banks.

Martin, Gordon. “Swiss ‘Blackmail’ Apology.” Daily Telegraph. January 16, 1997.
22 January 1997 Germany and the Czech Republic conflicts in the 1930s and 1940s

In a joint declaration, foreign ministers from Germany and the Czech Republic apologize to each other for conflicts in the 1930s and 1940s.

Caryl, Christian. “After a half a century, an apology exchange.” U.S. News & World Report. December 23, 1996.
April 1997 Grenada Imprisoned leaders of the marxist New Jewel Movement (NJM),apologize

Imprisoned leaders of the marxist New Jewel Movement (NJM), which ruled Grenada from 1979 to 1983, issue a letter apologizing for their regime’s acts, especially the killing of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop.

Coard, Bernard. “Revolutionary Regrets.” Harper’s Magazine. April, 1997.
8 April 1997 The CIA apologizes to veterans of the Gulf War

The CIA apologizes to veterans of the Gulf War for failing to alert the military to the danger of old chemical weapons that were stored in a depot, which U.S. troops blew up in the Persian Gulf War.

McAllister, Bill. “CIA Knew In ’84 of Iraq Poison Gas.” Washington Post. April 10, 1997.
14 May 1997 South Africa’s F.W. de Klerk makes a renewed apology for apartheid

At South Africa’s TRC, National party leader F.W. de Klerk makes a renewed apology for apartheid.

http://www.justice.gov.za/trc/media/1997/9705/s970514a.htm. Marrus, Michael R. “Official Apologies and the Quest for Historical Justice.” Controversies in Global Politics & Societies. Munk Centre, University of Toronto. 2006.
16 May 1997 USA apology for the 48-year Tuskegee Syphilis Study

 U.S. President Clinton holds a White House ceremony to apologize for the 48-year Tuskegee Syphilis Study by the U.S. Public Health Service that withheld medical treatment of the disease.  Five of the eight remaining survivors of the study attended the White House ceremony.

Cose, Ellis. “Forgive and Forget?” Newsweek. April 21, 1997.
18 May 1997 Australia, apology to Aboriginal people

In Australia, New South Wales Premier Bob Carr issues an apology to Aboriginal people for the removal of generations of Aboriginal children from their families.

http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/nsw/NE01264. I am indebted to Marilyn Hoey for this item.
26 May 1997 Australia’s parliament tables a report on the removal of aboriginal children-Recommends an apology

Australia’s parliament tables a report on the removal of aboriginal children, which recommends an apology.

Nobles, Melissa. The Politics of Official Apologies. Cambridge, 2008. p163.
June 1997 Britain-Ireland Potato Famine

British Prime Minister Tony Blair expresses regret for English indifference to the plight of the Irish people during the Potato Famine of the 1840s.

Lyall, Sarah. “The Irish Famine and the English.” New York Times. June 8, 1997; Brown, Andrew. “Insincere Apologies.” World Press Review. October, 1997.
August 1997 Australia Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission apology for forcibly removing mixed-blood children

The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission issues a report recommending an apology and reparations for the Australian government’s policy of forcibly removing mixed-blood children from aboriginal families between 1910 and 1970.
 

Wayne, Anne. “Who’s sorry now? When a nation apologizes.” Sojourners. September-October, 1997; Leo, John. “So who’s sorry now.” U.S. News & World Report. June 30, 1997; Rose, Michael. “Down under: few funds, no apology.” World Press Review.
25 September 1997 Israeli's- Labor Party immigration in the 1950s

Ehud Barak asks forgiveness from Israelis of Middle-Eastern and North-African origin and seeks “their forgiveness” for what the “Labor Party had done to them” as immigrants to Israel during the 1950s.

Weingrod, Alex. “Ehud Barak’s Apology.” Israel Studies. Fall, 1998.
26 September 1997 Internal Revenue Service IRS apology to four taxpayers (and by extension to all American taxpayers)

At the conclusion of U.S. Senate Finance committee hearings on Internal Revenue Service abuses, Acting IRS Commissioner Michael P. Dolan issues a public apology to four taxpayers (and by extension to all American taxpayers) for mistreatment at the hands of agency officials.

roder, John M. “Director of I.R.S. Issues an Apology for Agent Abuses.” New York Times. September 26, 1999.
30 September 1997 The French Roman Catholic Church apologizes for its role during the Holocaust

September 30, 1997:  The French Roman Catholic Church apologizes for its role during the Holocaust and its silence during 1940 Vichy regime.[1]

“Um, Sorry About That.” Time. October 13, 1997.
October 1997 Norway apologies for injustices against the Sami

Norwegian King Harold apologies for injustices against the Sami.

Nobles, Melissa. The Politics of Official Apologies. Cambridge, 2008. p159.
2 October 1997 Indonesia-fires that caused pollution over much of southeast Asia

Indonesian President Suharto apologizes for the forest fires that caused pollution over much of southeast Asia.

Cohen, Margot and Murray Hiebert. “Where’s there’s smoke…” Far Eastern Economic Review. October 2, 1997.
8 October 1997 International Red Cross-the Holocaust

George Willemin of the International Red Cross apologizes for the organization’s “moral failure” for keeping silent during the Holocaust.

“Red Cross official apologies for group’s stance in Holocaust.” www.jta.org. October 8, 1997.
10 October 1997 Chicago City Council Apology-Catherine O’Leary and her cow The great fire of 1871

A Chicago City Council committee supports a resolution absolving Catherine O’Leary and her cow for blame for allegedly starting the great fire of 1871.

Knowlton, Brian. “American Topics: Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow Knew it All Along.” New York Times. October 10, 1997
14 October 1997 Britain-India Amritsar (India) massacre

Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain pays homage and contrition for the 1912 Amritsar (India) massacre.
 

Nobles, Melissa. The Politics of Official Apologies. Cambridge, 2008. p159.
November 1997 Russia apologizes for the mistakes of the Bolshevik Revolution,

Russian President Boris Yeltsin apologizes for the mistakes of the Bolshevik Revolution, on its 80th anniversary.

Bowman, James. “Sorry about that.” New Criterion. May, 1998.
January 1998 Japan-Britain Japan’s treatment of British POWs

Japanese Prime Minister Ryutara Hashiomoto offers his “heartfelt apology” to the British government and expresses “Deep remorse” for Japan’s treatment of British POWs in World War II.

Mitchell, Emily. “Apologies: who’s sorry now?” Index of Censorship. May-June, 1998; Askwith, Richard. “The Year of Saying Sorry.” Daily Telegraph. December 26, 1998.
January 1998 France- the “judicial error” of the Dreyfus affair

French President Jacques Chirac apologizes for the “judicial error” of the Dreyfus affair on the 100-year anniversary of Emile Zola’s “J-accuse.”

Bowman, James. “Sorry about that.” New Criterion. May, 1998; Askwith, Richard. “The Year of Saying Sorry.” Daily Telegraph. December 26, 1998.