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This article examines the uses of official apologies for massive human rights abuses in the context of democratic transitions. It sketches a normative model of apologies, highlighting how they serve to provide some moral and practical redress for past wrongs. It discusses a number of contributions apologies can make, including publicly confirming the status of victims as moral agents, fostering public reexamination and deliberation about social norms, and promoting critical understandings of history that undermine apologist historical accounts. The article then presents certain normative criteria that any official apology must satisfy, and concludes with a discussion of several theoretical and practical challenges that apologies face in transitional contexts. It draws on Chilean President Patricio Aylwin's apology for his predecessor's crimes as an illustration of some of the promises and challenges that apologies face.
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Keywords: apology; forgiveness; reconciliation; reparations; transitional justice

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Political Science, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, 306 Hesburgh Center for International Studies, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556, USA, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 2010-07-01

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