Luis Esteban Kyburg
Ongoing preliminary investigation in Germany for murder of civilians during the Argentinian dictatorship
Type of jurisdiction
Luis Esteban Kyburg an Argentinian-German citizen and former second commander of a special unit at the Mar del Plata naval base
Country of residence of suspect
As the case is at the investigation stage, Kyburg has not yet been formally charged for any crime. However, the investigation is focused on his alleged involvement in the murder of at least 19 persons in 1976.
Between 1976 and 1983, the dictatorship in Argentina headed by Jorge Rafael Videla developed a policy of state terrorism, resulting in thousands of human rights violations and crimes against humanity. Among these, at least 30’000 persons were forcibly disappeared for opposing the regime. In many cases, state officials tortured captive pregnant women and forcibly gave their children up for adoption to supporters of the regime.
In this period, 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, 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.
Procedure in Argentina
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.
Procedure in Germany
German authorities denied an extradition request as Kyburg 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 that occurred 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.
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. In this respect, in 2021, the testimonies of survivors living in EU countries other than Germany were taken by prosecutors of the respective countries through EU mutual assistance in criminal matters. At the end of 2021, the gathering of testimonies by survivors, witnesses and former military officers in Mar del Plata began. The testimonies were taken via videoconference and with the cooperation of the German Embassy in Argentina and local authorities.
Developments in 2022
In 2022, German authorities finished taking the testimonies of witnesses, survivors and former Argentinian military officers. A decision on the results of the investigation, which could either lead to Kyburg’s indictment or the closure of the investigation, is pending.