Germany scraps postwar convictions of gays under Nazi law

11th May 2016, Comments 0 comments

Germany will annul the convictions of 50,000 men for homosexuality under a Nazi-era law which remained in force after the war, and will compensate them, the government said Wednesday.

"We can never completely erase the travesty of justice, but we want to rehabilitate the victims," Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement.

"They should not have to live with the stigma of conviction any longer."

Article 175 of the penal code outlawed "sexual acts contrary to nature... be it between people of the male gender or between people and animals".

Although the article dated from 1871, it was not really enforced until the Nazis came to power and in 1935, toughened the law to carry a sentence of 10 years of forced labour.

More than 42,000 men were convicted during the Third Reich, and sent to prison or concentration camps.

In 2002, the government introduced a new law which overturned their convictions, and also applied to those convicted of desertion during Nazi rule.

But that move didn't include those convicted after the war when article 175 was still in force, leading to the convictions of another 50,000 people.

"Article 175 was unconstitutional from the outset," the justice minister said.

"The old rulings are unjust."

The article was finally dropped from the penal code in East Germany in 1968.

In West Germany, it reverted to the pre-Nazi era version in 1969 and was only fully repealed in 1994.

- 'Much too late' -

Gay associations and the Greens have pushed for these post-war convictions to be annulled but until now, their demand has been refused on grounds that the sentences were handed down by a democratic court and confirmed by a federal court on appeal.

Maas said the government also supported efforts by the Magnus Hirschfeld foundation to document the cases, explaining it was "out of the question to annul 50,000 convictions without the public knowing what it had been all about".

But the Berliner Zeitung daily said the government's initiative was "too late, much too late, as most of those affected have long died".

It also said the initiative did not go far enough.

"Real regret can only be shown if discrimination on the grounds of sexual identity were banned under constitutional law," it said.

"Only that way can homosexuals be protected from discrimination and from the backslide into discrimination."

Germany's Lesbian and Gay Association urged the government to move swiftly to overturn the convictions.

"Time is pressing for abolition of the unjust rulings and for dignity of the victims to be restored," said the association in a statement.

© 2016 AFP

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