Countries Can Apologize Too

Countries can apologize too.

PRI’s The World did a story last night on what might be called “the national apology,” when a government apologizes.

Australia has had a “Sorry Day,” May 26, for twenty years, to express its regret for mistreatment of Aboriginal people. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made several apologies, including just this month to Inuit people for their mistreatment by the government, including its mid-century policy on tuberculosis.

The United States government apologized to native Americans in the 1990’s for mis-management of trust funds, but victims had to sue in order to get reparations (see Cobel v Salazar).

Although an apology with reparations might seem like the only way to make it effective, Commentator Alison Herrera believes apologies themselves can be “important mechanisms” – if they’re done right. She believes the “right” apology has to be unequivocal; it must take responsibility; it has to be clear what it’s an apology for; and it must be “really public,” ideally involving a lot of people.

She offered the example of Chile, where the president apologized for crimes committed under its former president, Augusto Pinochet, after which the army – responsible for many of the crimes—also apologized, a turning point for the country.

A report by an organization called the International Center for Transitional Justice offers more insights on the effectiveness of apologies made by governments.

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