In comments under the question about the UK's refusal to apologise for the Amritsar massacre there has been some discussion in the comments about whether there is any point in apologising for something that has happened very long ago, so much so that many of those involved are no longer alive.

Another point that hasn't been raised in the comments but that I always found a bit weird is that it's not the actual perpetrators that apologise, instead it's a new generation of politicians that feel obliged to do so.

The problem is not just limited to the massacre in the question, indeed this question comes up in different countries and with different issues.

For example, the question about whether the Dutch should apologise for their part in the slave trade (the most they have done is "recognise the injustice" and "express deep regret and remorse").

Another example is the discussion about 'reparations for or the descendants of enslaved men and women' in relation to the slave trade in the US.

Another example is the US' apology for the overthrowing of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, 100 years after the fact.


What arguments do those in favour of apologising for massacres and injustices that happened very long ago use? Why is it worth apologising, even so long after the fact?

Note: that this question is asking about arguments in general, not related to any specific injustice or a specific instance of wrongdoing. Of course, examples relying on specific cases are still very much welcomed.

1 Answer 1


To understand potential reasons for apologizing, we should first look at the reasons why not to.

Probably one of the biggest problems with apologizing for genocide, colonial-era crimes, and acts against humanity is the possibility to create a precedent. It could mean former countries which belonged to colonies could sue most of the colonial countries and demand reparations, financial or otherwise. It may also potentially create substantial damage to the reputation of former colonial countries and weaken their position in terms of the European Union being a diplomatic moderator in global politics.

You can see for example video reporting from Vice News about this topic Namibians Want Reparations From Germany For A Genocide That Killed Thousands .

If you would want to see more detailed discussion, I recommend watching the debate in Oxford Union Does Britain Owe Reparations.

Now, what could be the benefits of apologizing. Some of the damaged countries may see it as a way to improve diplomatic relations. It could also show "maturity" and remorse of the perpetrators, so they could lead by example and admit what they have done was wrong and make sure it's not going to happen again.

There is also a great discourse about whether certain events were positive or negative for a country claiming to be damaged, this doesn't of course include genocides or human rights abuse but general economic discussion of facts.

  • 1
    So the two reasons you put forward are improving relations and showing maturity, I think it might be better to format your answer a bit differently to feature those reasons more prominently and add some more elaboration on that and have the other information take a less prominent role, maybe towards the end of your answer.
    – JJJ
    Apr 12, 2019 at 14:24

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .