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The Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples by the former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Parliament House on the 13th of February 2008 on behalf of the Australian nation was a profoundly moving ceremony. (1) The apology had been a long time coming. It was first mooted in 1997 in the Bringing Them Home Report prepared by Commissioners Mick Dodson and Sir Ronald Wilson from the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families. This document was destined for controversy. It gave unprecedented primacy and authority to Indigenous testimony in its conclusions, which were collated from thousands of hours of interviews. The findings that between one and three of every ten Indigenous children had been forcibly removed from their families and the litany of unhappy lives spent in institutions, foster homes, adoptive families and forced employment rocked the nation. There were also tragic disclosures of the ongoing medical, psychological and emotional problems, addictions, mental illness, incarceration, violence, self-harm and suicide that haunted the Stolen Generations. For parochial Australians the language of international human rights that framed the report was inflammatory. Particularly shocking was the conclusion that the forcible transfer of Indigenous children constituted cultural genocide under the United Nations Genocide Convention 1948 (ratified by Australia in 1949), which the Australian public associated with the extermination policies of Nazism. Other citizens were concerned about a blow out of compensation payments with the report's recommended use of the United Nations' van Boven principles for victims of gross violations of human rights, which advocated a full range of reparation measures, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of not-repetition. The recommendation for a national apology was made in this context.

22 juin
Journal of Social History

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