Global Affairs

When nations say sorry for past wrongs

What do recent apologies by France and Germany for massacres in Africa tell about the reasons for such contrition as well as their application in the Asian context?

French President Emmanuel Macron speaking at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda, where some 250,000 victims of the massacres are buried, on May 27, 2021. PHOTO: AFP
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Countries do not usually offer public apologies for past deeds committed by their leaders or government officials. Quite apart from the fact that it is difficult to offer a convincing public apology on behalf of an entire nation, the gesture can also have often incalculable legal and financial implications, in the form of demands for prosecutions and the payment of financial compensations which may stretch on for decades thereafter.

And, if national apologies are issued for crimes and other alleged wrongdoings which have taken place decades and even centuries ago, such moves are even more controversial since neither the perpetrators of the crimes nor their victims are alive, so an apology may have moral, but no practical implications.

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