Colonia Dignidad in Chile: First compensation for cult victims

Status: 06/13/2022 12:30 p.m

After a 26-year legal dispute, the victims of the German sect Colonia Dignidad are to be compensated for the first time. The money for this comes from auctioned property of the sect.

By Kai Laufen, ARD Studio Rio de Janeiro

In southern Chile, a court has foreclosed on a large piece of land belonging to the former Colonia Dignidad sect. After 26 years of litigation, the proceeds are to be used for the first time to compensate Chilean victims of former cult leader Paul Schäfer.

The lawyer for the victims at the time, Winfried Hempel, himself comes from the former Colonia Dignidad. He spoke of a “huge satisfaction”. The importance of this reparation goes far beyond the material value.

“This is also a historic auction because it is the first time that anything material has been touched by the colony, i.e. goods directly from this bulwark that has done what it wanted here in Chile for 50 or 60 years,” says Hempel . “And it’s not just touched, it’s made liquid for victims.”

“Compensation will help victims a lot”

Two of the original victims have already died, the others over 40 years old. In fact, it was these people who courageously exposed the system of Colonia Dignidad.

“These are children from a rural area, from the area around the colony, who were abused as small children, who are now ordinary citizens in Chile and who this sum of money will help quite a lot,” says Hempel. “You have to let that stand, quite apart from what happened to them in the colony, which of course cut their lives in two.”

Procedure lasted 26 years

The process began in 1996. The subject was claims for compensation for sexual abuse committed by sect leader Schäfer on Chilean children from the Colonia area. It was not until 2013 that Chile’s supreme court confirmed the claims as lawful, and another nine years passed before the current auction.

“It’s a shared guilt here: on the one hand, the colony defended itself with all legal means, with the best lawyers and with all the money they had,” says Hempel. On the other hand, I also played a lot against the victims. One problem was that “the Chilean code of civil procedure is incredibly old and outdated and is still kept in old files, and that is of course very complex.”

1.5 million euros in compensation

Overall, the amount of compensation for the eleven Chilean victims or their descendants is set at the equivalent of around 1.5 million euros. The outstanding half million should be caught up in a few weeks through further auctions.

Sect leader Schäfer was distributed in Chile for rape and sexual abuse and died in prison in 2010. In Germany, no charges were brought against him or his ruling clique.

After 26 years of litigation in Chile: compensation for victims of Colonia Dignidad

Kai Laufen, SWR, 13.6.2022 11:32 a.m

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