Opinion: British should apologize to Aboriginals
"The historic apology offered by prime minister Kevin Rudd to the "stolen generations" was a crucial step for Australia, as Richard Flanagan wrote on these pages this week. But it does not make amends for the role played by the British in the destruction and degradation of the Aboriginal race. Initially soldiers, convicts and settlers killed Aborigines as if they were animals threatening the crops. Later, in the 20th century, Fabian socialists provided the intellectual justification for the eugenics policy that led to the stolen generations scandal.

The British exterminated the entire tribe of Tasmanian aborigines, leaving only 40 survivors who were herded off their land and placed on an offshore island gulag. The governor's wife led the hunt for their skulls to decorate London mantelpieces. At least there was a parliamentary inquiry, which reported in 1836 that "not a single native now remains upon Van Dieman's land ... the adoption of any conduct, having for its avowed or secret object the extermination of the native race, could not fail to leave an indelible stain upon the British government". That "indelible stain" was, a century later, termed "genocide".

Historical wrongs cannot be put right by belated apologies unless there has been a genuine attempt to understand - then remember and condemn - the thinking behind the policies that have had such appalling results. This is why we establish truth commissions, and why international courts now try the "intellectual authors" of widespread and systematic atrocities.

For that reason, the UK government should find a way to endorse the apology to Australian Aborigines, for whose sufferings Britain has been in part responsible - not only for the massacres and for the introduction of disease and alcohol that further ravaged the indigenous population, but by a much later and more insidious dose of eugenics theory. Every Holocaust Day we should remember the Tasmanians, and ask how it came to pass that the finest minds in the socialist pantheon were incapable of imagining the inhuman cruelty entailed by their plans for a Fabian utopia."

Get the Story:
Geoffrey Robertson: We should say sorry, too (The Guardian 2/14)

Relevant Documents:
Text of Apology

Related Stories:
Australia offers apology for treatment of Aborigines (2/13)
Australia to apologize for treatment of Aborigines (1/31)