Chile - Colonia Dignidad - Germany

Colonia Dignidad remains dark chapter of German legal history

Chile - Colonia Dignidad - Germany

Colonia Dignidad remains dark chapter of German legal history

Torture and child abuse are just two of the crimes committed in the German sect in Chile known as Colonia Dignidad. From the 1970s, Hartmut Hopp and Reinhard Döring were part of the leadership of the Colonia. They are currently living in Germany – but German authorities show no interest in holding them liable for their crimes.

In early 2019, investigations into both Hopp and Döring were closed. This double setback has shaken the survivors' and witnesses' trust in the German justice system. Many of them were willing to give evidence in the proceedings but were simply ignored. ECCHR partner lawyer Petra Schlagenhauf appealed the decision to close the proceedings.


Hartmut Hopp was the Colonia's doctor and "right hand" to Paul Schäfer, the German founder and leader of the sect. Hopp also represented the Colonia in external affairs. In 2011, he was sentenced in Chile to five year's imprisonment for aiding the sexual abuse of minors, but escaped punishment by fleeing to Germany. Former inhabitants of Colonia Dignidad as well as relatives of Chilean victims also see Hopp as bearing responsibility for other crimes at the Colonia, such as torture, systematic abuse with psychopharmaceuticals and murder. The decision by the prosecutor in Germany, however, means that for now he will face no legal consequences.

Reinhard Döring was one of the first Germans to follow Schäfer to Chile to help set up the settlement. Döring was one of the leaders of Colonia Dignidad. He was familiar with what happened on the grounds of the settlement and one the few inhabitants of the Colonia who was in direct contact with DINA, the Chilean secret police. Between 1973 and 1977, DINA served as the most influential intelligence service of the Pinochet regime. DINA was stationed in part on the grounds of the sect.


Colonia Dignidad, founded in 1961, was a fortress-like German settlement in Chile that operated as a walled-off parallel society. In the settlement, grave human rights violations were committed over several decades. Opponents of the Pinochet regime were "disappeared," tortured and murdered at the enclave. German and Chilean children were subjected to systematic sexual abuse there. Inhabitants were drugged with potent psychopharmaceuticals.

In 2011 and 2018 respectively, ECCHR and its partner lawyer Petra Schlagenhauf together with survivors and witnesses filed criminal complaints against Hopp and Döring. The complaints concerning the crimes committed at Colonia Dignidad were submitted to the Public Prosecutors in Krefeld and Münster. The primary aim of the legal interventions in Germany was to support the ongoing efforts in Chile to address these crimes.

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