More Than Words: Apologies as a Form of Reparation

21 March 2016

A report explores many of the issues and challenges likely to be faced by those considering a public apology as a form of reparation for victims of serious human rights violations.

The International Center for Transitional Justice has published a report “More Than Words: Apologies as a Form of Reparation.” It finds that the best apologies clearly acknowledge responsibility for violations, recognize the continuing pain of survivors and victims’ families, and are linked with efforts to compensate and assist victims materially and through other justice measures. It draws on dozens of examples of official apologies offered in connection with human rights violations and war crimes, particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The report identifies, among others, some attributes that are key in reparative effects of apologies:

  • An unequivocal statement of apology acknowledges the specific injustices that occurred, recognizes that victims have suffered  serious harm, and takes responsibility for this.
  • An apology must be sincere; perceptions of a lack of forthrightness can undermine an apology.
  • Effective apologies take into account, as sensitively as possible, what victims are likely to feel and think about what is being said. The apology should honor victims and indicate the importance of restoring respect for them and recognizing their dignity.
  • They assure victims—and the rest of society—that the victims were not at fault for what happened.
  • They emphasize common values shared by everyone in society.
  • They tell victims what else will be done to redress the harm that was caused as well as what is being done to keep them safe from further harm. e best apologies address the future not just the past.

To access the full report, click here.

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