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Strong increase in the number of state apologies for human rights violations in the past two decades

Published: 08th July 2021 Last updated: 12th July 2021

Research by Tilburg University has mapped and compared the apologies which have been offered throughout the world for human rights violations in the (recent) past. The extensive and unique database, accessible to academics, the public and the press, shows a strong increase in the number of apologies in the past two decades. More than 70 countries have now expressed regret for a variety of past wrongs. A significant portion of the more than 350 apologies in the database has to do with World War II; apologies for slavery have been offered only sparsely.

Many countries struggle with how to deal with past wrong doings. Increasingly, they apologize for human rights violations. Last week the mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, apologized for the role of the Amsterdam city government in the colonial slavery and slave trade, which immediately raised the question: will the Netherlands government now apologize as well? 

To affirm liberal values

The Netherlands appears to be an average performer, measured by the number of apologies offered and how extensively and explicitly past wrongs are acknowledged. The leaders are still Japan, Germany, Canada and the US. Apologies are offered mainly by liberal democracies and by countries transitioning from authoritarian to more democratic rule. In doing so, apologies seem to have become a means par excellence to profess and affirm liberal values. 

More information
The database was created as part of the Political Apologies across Cultures research project funded by the European Research Council and can be accessed at: www.politicalapologies.com. For questions or information regarding the project or the database, please contact Prof. Juliette Schaafsma (j.schaafsma@tilburguniversity.edu) or Marieke Zoodsma, PhD and co-developer of the database (m.a.zoodsma@tilburguniversity.edu).