Germany admits diplomatic failures in Chile's secretive 'Colonia Dignidad'

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Germany's president said Tuesday that he regrets his country's diplomats failed for years to act on human rights violations at a secretive colony of German immigrants in Chile.

Germany recently ordered documents about Colonia Dignidad, or Dignity Colony, from 1986 until 1996 to be unclassified for research purposes. For three decades from 1961, the enclave was the site of torture, slavery and child abuse.

"German diplomats didn't take seriously the human rights violations at a concrete time," President Joachim Gauck said at a joint news conference with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.

The leaders met earlier and Gauck said they spoke about "dark chapters" in their countries' past.

"We hope that the declassifying of these documents will help contribute to knowing the truth about the many disappeared and executed at Colonia Dignidad and its surroundings," Bachelet said.

The colony was founded by Paul Schaefer, a former medic in the Luftwaffe. After his World War II service, Schaefer became an evangelical preacher. He fled Germany after being accused of molesting boys at the orphanage he ran and began what became home to hundreds of Germans and Chileans in the enclave about 250 miles (400 kilometers) southeast of Santiago.

Schaefer also allowed Gen. Augusto Pinochet's security forces to operate a clandestine prison on the grounds where they tortured and executed dissidents during the 1973-1990 military dictatorship, according to witnesses' testimony in court documents.

Colony members said married couples were forced to live apart and children were separated from parents. Residents were prevented from leaving. Those who dared to upset Schaefer were subject to electric shocks, high doses of tranquilizers and long periods of isolation.

There were also dozens of allegations of child molestation, leading Schaefer to flee Chile in 1997. He was arrested in neighboring Argentina in 2005 and extradited to Chile the same year. Schaefer died in prison in 2010, while serving time for abusing about 20 children at the colony.

The enclave's history was featured in a recent movie starring Emma Watson and Daniel Bruehl.

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