hartmut hopp
Hartmut Hopp, leader in charge of the German enclave Dignity Colony (Colonia Dignidad), is escorted by police in 1997 after his arrest under charges of covering up child sexual abuseReuters

A German doctor convicted in Chile for his role in the sexual abuse of children at a secretive Nazi paedophile sect must serve a five-year jail sentence in his home country, a court has ruled.

Hartmut Hopp, 76, was the right-hand man of former Nazi soldier and convicted paedophile Paul Schaefer, who ran the Colonia Dignidad commune in southern Chile from 1961.

Hopp was convicted and sentenced to five years in jail by a Chilean court in 2011 for 16 counts of aiding in the sexual abuse of children.

He fled to Germany before the verdict took legal effect.

On Monday (14 August), a court in western Germany ruled that Hopp will have to serve the time in a prison in his home country.

The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights welcomed the ruling, calling it a long-overdue first step "in the resolution of the crimes of Colonia Dignidad, in particular rape and sexual abuse of minors".

Hopp denies the charges and his attorney says he will appeal the ruling.

Located in the foothills of Chile's central valley, Colonia Dignidad was originally set up by expat Germans to celebrate Germany's language and its culture.

But Schaefer's arrival saw him take control of the colony, enslaving residents who came to treat him as an almost-Messianic figure.

The following three decades saw inhabitants physically and psychologically abused. Contact with the outside world was prohibited, men and women lived separately and children were taken away from their mothers.

Schaefer used his position to get away with sexually abusing children, including youngsters adopted from impoverished local Chilean families.

He also collaborated with the Augusto Pinochet regime, allowing the dictator's secret police to use the colony to torture and "disappear" his opponents.

The atrocities committed at Colonia Dignidad – now renamed Villa Baviera – were only uncovered after the end of Pinochet's regime.

In April last year, Germany said it was declassifying its files on the sect after admitting the diplomatic service in Chile had failed to stop the abuses.

Then foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said German officials "looked the other way and did too little to protect their citizens in this commune."

Schaefer in 1997 faced a series of lawsuits and fled Chile. He was arrested in Argentina in 2005 and subsequently convicted in Chile for sexual abuse of children, weapons possession and human rights violations.

He died in a Chilean jail in 2010 at the age of 88 while serving a 20-year sentence.