Apology for human rights abuses has precedent in US

Sep 28, 2009

A growing global movement to apologize and make restitution to victims of human rights abuses is now gathering steam in the United States, but it won't be a first for the country, says the president of The Western History Association.

"In reviewing the history of reconciliation in the American West, I've found three examples of government restitution — where we acknowledge we've participated in abuses and offered either an apology, restitution, reparation or all three," says Sherry Smith, who is also associate director of the Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and an SMU history professor.

The state of Montana granted posthumous pardons to Germans and Austrians convicted and imprisoned under repressive sedition laws during World War I; the U.S. government paid reparations to the heirs of Japanese Americans relocated to incarceration camps during World War II; and in a landmark native-lands case, Arizona returned 6,000 acres to the Hualapai tribe in the 1940s and the U.S. government set up the Indian Claims Commission.

"These are tiny steps considering the magnitude of the problem. But they helped turn the corner of deep injustice," says Smith. "It's never too late to do the right thing."

The global move toward reparations and restitution has largely evolved since , beginning with Germany after the Holocaust, Smith says. Since then other nations and some private corporations have apologized or offered reparations to reconcile the past.

Increasingly, governments are responding to victims' rights groups that are demanding reconciliation and restitution for slavery, war crimes and other institutionalized abuse. Most recently, the U.S. Senate in June passed a resolution apologizing for slavery — although it didn't offer any monetary reparation.

"The United States is in the beginning stages of this movement," says Smith, noting that historians have been a critical part of the process as they collect victims' testimony and verify abuses through documentation. "To the extent reconciliation includes chronicling and teaching the sometimes troubled past, historians are central to that," says Smith.

While Smith isn't drawing moral or ethical conclusions, she did say "the work that historians do can have social justice implications. We need to tell the stories of abuse and keep retelling them as part of the reconciliation process. But victims also need more than words. They want acts, too."

Source: Southern Methodist University (news : web)

Explore further: Color and texture matter most when it comes to tomatoes

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How Temporary Help Agencies Impact the Labor Market

Aug 29, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Temporary help agencies place nearly 3 million Americans in jobs each day -- but the temp industry's very success may embolden some managers to view all workers as impermanent, jobs scholar Vicki Smith argues ...

Ted Hoffman joins Smith Micro

Dec 19, 2005

A former Verizon Wireless executive has been named to the Smith Micro Board, the company announced Monday.

Deep brain mapping to isolate evidence of Gulf War syndrome

Nov 19, 2008

Researchers at Southern Methodist University in Dallas are pioneering the use of spatial statistical modeling to analyze brain scan data from Persian Gulf War veterans, aiming to pinpoint specific areas of the their brains ...

Colonial heritage metaphors used in US military conflicts

Jul 25, 2008

The historical reference to "Indian Country" presents a complex metaphor. For many Native Americans it signifies home, family, and territory; however, for others the term can refer to colonialism and Native American land ...

Recommended for you

Color and texture matter most when it comes to tomatoes

13 hours ago

A new study in the Journal of Food Science, published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), evaluated consumers' choice in fresh tomato selection and revealed which characteristics make the red fruit most appealing.

How the lotus got its own administration

16 hours ago

Actually the lotus is a very ordinary plant. Nevertheless, during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) a complex bureaucratic structure was built up around this plant. The lotus was part of the Imperial Household, ...

What labels on textiles can tell us about society

17 hours ago

Throughout Chinese history, dynastic states used labels on textiles to spread information on the maker, the commissioner, the owner or the date and site of production. Silks produced in state-owned manufacture ...

US company sells out of Ebola toys

Oct 17, 2014

They might look tasteless, but satisfied customers dub them cute and adorable. Ebola-themed toys have proved such a hit that one US-based company has sold out.

User comments : 0