Luis Esteban Kyburg
Between 1976 and 1983, the dictatorship in Argentina headed by Jorge Rafael Videla developed a policy of state terrorism, resulting in scores of human rights violations and crimes against humanity. Among these, at least 30’000 persons were forcibly disappeared for opposing the regime. It is also known that, in many cases, state officials tortured captive pregnant women and forcibly gave their children up for adoption to supporters of the regime.
In parallel, the naval base in Mar del Plata (a city 400 km south of Buenos Aires) was being used as an illegal detention center. Detainees were held captive, tortured, possibly drugged and thrown into the ocean by military planes (a practice that is commonly known as death flights – or vuelos de la muerte). In 1976, Luis Esteban Kyburg was appointed Second Commander of a special unit for tactical divers (Agrupación Buzos Tácticos) in the Mar del Plata naval base.
The complaint against Kyburg regards the case of a young man who was detained with his three-month pregnant partner in September 1976. The detention occurred after Argentinian state forces, dressed in civilian clothes, raided their home and took them to the naval base. Since then, their whereabouts are unknown.
At least 16 former members of the armed forces have been convicted for the crimes against humanity committed in Mar del Plata during this period. Among these, the first commander of Kyburg’s unit and the person who followed him in his position in 1997 have been convicted and imprisoned.
In 2013, Argentinian authorities issued an arrest warrant against Kyburg in the context of criminal proceedings in which he, along with other former naval officers, were being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, forced disappearance, torture, and kidnapping of civilians in the Mar del Plata naval base.
Kyburg managed to flee Argentina before his arrest and has been living, since then, in Germany. German authorities denied an extradition request as he is a German citizen (Germany does not extradite its own nationals unless the extradition takes place within European Union countries).
German authorities have requested judicial assistance from Argentinian authorities and have obtained substantial amounts of evidence on the crimes occurring in the Mar del Plata naval base. Additionally, in 2017, the Berlin prosecutor traveled to Argentina in order to gather additional evidence and to meet Argentinian authorities.
In 2018, a criminal complaint against Kyburg was submitted – with the support of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights – by the sister of the young man who was forcibly disappeared in 1976. In 2019, German authorities took the testimony of the complainant. Testimonies from witnesses and survivors living in Europe will also be gathered by the authorities.
In July 2020, a prosecutor in Berlin publicly confirmed that a person-specific investigation targeted Kyburg and that he was undertaking further investigatory steps to prosecute the crimes under German law. As the case is in an investigation stage, Kyburg has not yet been formally charged for any crime. However, the investigation is focused on his involvement in the murder of at least 19 persons in 1976, enforced disappearance and torture.