BERLIN – Victims of Chile’s Colonia Dignidad will receive compensation from the German government. The state earmarked funds in November, and now a commission finished determining their dispersal. West Germany played a secondary yet enabling role in this special child abuse and torture center of Pinochet’s dictatorship.
On Friday, German government official Niels Annen said that each victim of the Colonia Dignidad sect will receive up to 10,000 euros (CLP $7.77 million) in compensation from the German government.
Annen belonged to a special commission created in November on initiative of lawmakers such as Renate Künast from the Green Party. These lawmakers determined that the West German state bears responsibility for the abuse that occurred in the sect during the last dictatorship. Künast called the compensations “symbolic” but “acceptable.”
According to AFP, the commission added during the press conference today that “survivors continue to suffer from the severe psychological and physical consequences of years of harm caused by violence, abuse, exploitation and slave labour.”
German media reported that the committee determined only former sect members with a clean slate can receive compensation from the special 1 million euro fund. Convicted criminals and persons that held leadership positions in the sect are excluded.
Daily Die Zeit wrote that the commission expects the state to pay 3.5 million euros in total for the around 240 victims, 80 of which live in Germany. Victims without access to the German healthcare system will benefit from a special “Care and Age” fund. The International Organization for Migration will disperse the resources.
Moral, No Legal Responsibility
However, Germany does not recognize any legal responsibility for the crimes committed in Colonia Dignidad. As the document released today reads, the compensations are paid “out of moral responsibility, and without recognition of a legal obligation.”
The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights said according to AFP that Germany is “dodging its legal responsibility to compensate the victims” to a wider extent, and that “many Chilean victims were left out.”
Led by German immigrant and former Wehrmacht soldier Paul Schäfer, victims of the sect were forced into slave labor and had to endure sexual abuse. The highest echelons of Pinochet’s dictatorship did not only cover these practices but also utilized them. Many Chileans accused of left-wing activities were brought to the secluded place and tortured in chambers beneath children’s sleeping rooms.
But Schäfer could also count on conservatives in the West German state. Especially officials from the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), which supported the dictatorship as a bulwark against communism, deflected accusations against Schäfer for years. A Bavarian performance featuring traditional clothes and songs was enough to convince the CSU that nothing bad could happen in that place.
Social Democrat Matthias Bartke, heading the parliament’s labor and social affairs committee, said in November that the diplomatic corps’ complacency at the time marked “one of the darkest chapters of German post-war diplomacy.”
In 2016, the former German President Joachim Gauck admitted during a press conference with then-president Michelle Bachelet that West German diplomats “hadn’t taken the human rights abuses seriously.”
Schäfer was arrested in 2005 in Argentina and died in a Chilean prison in 2010.
Ghost From The Past
In early May, Germany’s public prosecutor ended an investigation into the role of Paul Schäfer’s deputy, Hartmut Hopp. He was convicted in Chile but escaped the country. He fled to Germany, where he initially faced the same prison sentence, but the prosecutor in the city of Krefeld said it could not establish sufficient wrongdoing to justify a trial. Die Zeit reported that a lawyer for the victims filed a complaint against the decision.
Christian is Managing Editor at Chile Today, where he curates the foreign policy blog Teatinos One/Eighty. Christian is also Lead Editor of E-International Relations, co-editor of an open access textbook on International Relations Theory and Director at the Chilean Association of International Specialists (ACHEI).