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Just following orders

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In a case that raised far-reaching political and moral questions, two former East German border guards were convicted of having shot and killed a fleeing refugee in February 1989.


The defendant told the court "I was following the laws and commands of the German Democratic Republic."


But the judge, Theodor Seidel, said as he pronounced the sentences, "Not everything that is legal is right."


He was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on a charge of manslaughter.


The judge acknowledged that the defendants were "at the end of a long chain of responsibility," but said they had violated "a basic human right" by shooting at someone whose only crime was trying to emigrate. "No one has the right to ignore his conscience when it comes to killing people on behalf of the power structure." The principle that citizens must not violate basic moral principles, even if the violations are endorsed by law, was established by German courts in trials of former Nazis in the late 1940's and the 1950's.


Will the state sanctioned murderers on Israel’s border with Gaza be brought to justice, or should we just forget history?


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