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April 01, 2000

Introduction - Human Rights Magazine, Spring 2000


Human Rights magazine is grateful to Jacqueline E. Coleman and R. Hayes Johnson, Jr.,for their work as Special Editors of this issue on righting the wrongs of the past.


The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.

Ezekiel 18:20

In the past decade, political and religious leaders-near and far-have "apologized" for the human injustices that scar our history:

  • October 9, 1992, President Frederik W. de Klerk apologized for South Africa's system of Apartheid.
  • July 17, 1995, French President Jacques Chirac apologized for his country's role in deporting thousands of Jews to Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
  • November 3, 1995, Queen Elizabeth II apologized to the Maori people for the seizure of their land by British colonizers in 1863 during race wars in the Waikato region.
  • February 7, 1996, the Polish government apologized for a 1946 pogrom in the City of Kielce in which forty Jews were killed.
  • July 19, 1996, the Roman Catholic Church in Australia apologized for its role in a government assimilation policy intended to break the cultural identity of Aborigines by removing thousands of Aboriginal children from their parents between the mid-1800s and mid-1960s.
  • August 14, 1996, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto issued a written apology to women forced into sexual slavery to serve soldiers in Japan during World War II.
  • May 16, 1997, President Clinton apologized to the survivors of the Tuskegee Experiment and their families on behalf of the United States government, which in 1932, lured hundreds of poor black males with promises of treatment for their syphilis into a government program that, unbeknownst to them, intentionally failed to treat their condition in order to study the long-term effects of the disease.
  • March 16, 1998, the Roman Catholic Church apologized for not taking decisive actions to challenge the Nazi regime and prevent the extermination of millions of Jews.
  • March 24, 1998, President Clinton before a group of school children in Mukono, Uganda, expressed regret for slavery and other sins that the United States government had committed against Africa.
  • April 3, 1998, the British government apologized to Holocaust victims for making it difficult for them to reclaim their assets that were seized during World War II.
  • June 12, 1998, the United States government apologized for the wrongful internment of persons of Japanese descent during World War II.
  • March 23, 2000, Pope John Paul II apologized on behalf of the Catholic Church for Christian persecution of Jews. And there have been others.
  • But is sorry enough? Some would say "no"-especially considering that those expressing the sentiment were not even responsible for the wrongs. If sorry isn't enough, what then? This issue of Human Rights explores that subject. It is important to recognize that although some of the human injustices occurred over a century ago, there are still people living today who are victimized by those acts. An obvious example is the racism that African Americans in the United States still encounter today, which, of course, is rooted in the African slave trade. This issue of Human Rights begins with an article entitled "Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman: The Struggle for Justice," by Ben Chaney, which describes the senseless murders of Civil Rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman in June 1964, and the author's continuing effort to see that those responsible for their deaths are brought to justice. Lest our readers conclude that racism is a thing of the past, this issue appropriately ends with a poignant reminder that it has not: "Our Wounds: The Wrongs Continue," by the Honorable Damon J. Keith, describes tragic examples of hate crimes against African Americans in the United States-some as recent as last fall.

    All of the articles in between discuss different approaches-some tried, others proposed-for redressing past human injustices such as Civil Rights violations, the Holocaust, slavery, Japanese internment during World War II, and Apartheid, and for eliminating their vestiges.

    The first of these articles is an adaptation of the address presented by Governor William F. Winter at the Thurgood Marshall Award Dinner held during last year's ABA meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. His piece, entitled "Lawyers: Righters of Old Wrongs," describes the role that lawyers can and should play in eliminating racial inequality.

    The next article, entitled "The Japanese American Incarceration: The Journey to Redress," by John Tateishi and William Yoshino, describes the successful concerted effort of Japanese Americans in this country to obtain redress through the legislative system for the United States government's internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

    Attorney Allyn Z. Lite's "Another Attempt to Heal the Wounds of the Holocaust," describes successful efforts to obtain for Holocaust survivors redress from German companies that profited from these survivors' slave labor during World War II. The next article, Anthony Gifford's "The Legal Basis of the Claim for Slavery Reparations," discusses whether a similar approach might be used to redress past enslavement of Africans, i.e., seeking monetary compensation from those governments that profited and promoted the African slave trade.

    The last of the approaches presented in this issue is discussed in "The Truth About the Truth Commission," by Anthea Jeffery. Jeffery recounts South Africa's attempt to identify and hold accountable the perpetrators of human rights violations committed under that country's system of Apartheid.

    Sadly, the number of human injustices in our past (and present) is too large to address in a single magazine issue. By no means is our selection of the above examples intended to devalue the experiences of other racial, ethnic, or religious groups whose stories we are unable to share. Instead, these examples should serve as reminders of where we have been, how far we have come, and how much further we must go to erase the vestiges of the human injustices with which the victims and their descendants still cope years after the fact.

    Jacqueline E. Coleman Special Editor