German Arrest Warrant issued for Ex-Dictator Videla

Rolf Stawowiok
On 15 December 2009, the District Court in Nuremberg issued another warrant for the arrest of Jorge Rafael Videla, the former head of the military junta that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983. The warrant was issued in response to Videla's participation in the murder of Rolf Stawowiok, a German citizen. The criminal complaint was filed in May 2001 by Wolfgang Kaleck on behalf of the Coalition against Impunity. In January 2010 proceedings were temporarily suspended by the Prosecutor's Office in Nuremberg-Fürth due to the absence of the accused.

Since 1998 investigative hearings have been conducted into the human rights abuses committed against German nationals during the Argentinean dictatorship. In the course of these proceedings the responsible judicial authority in Nuremberg has already issued multiple arrest warrants for those members of the military who participated in abuses, whether directly or indirectly. The most intense international furor followed warrants calling for the arrests of Jorge Rafael Videla and Eduardo Emilio Massera, both former members of the military junta. Warrants for their arrest were issued by the District court in 2003.  Both are accused of assisting the murder of German nationals Elisabeth Käsemann and Klaus Zieschank. Warrants to search both men were first issued through European arrest warrants and through Interpol. In the case of Elisabeth Käsemann the Federal Republic of Germany requested the extradition of those accused. Following Argentina's refusal to grant this request, the attorney responsible for the German Embassy lodged an appeal. This appeal was ultimately dismissed in 2008 by the Supreme Court of Last Instance. This decision was justified on the grounds that Videla was already facing charges in his own country of child abduction, murder and torture, among others. Due to his advanced age he has not been taken into custody, and has instead been held under house arrest for several years. In 2010 the Käsemann case will be heard, among others, as part of an oral trial to be held before the Federal Court in Buenos Aires. 

In May 2001 lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck, working on behalf of the Coalition against Impunity,  filed the first complaint in response to the disappearance of the German national Rolf Stawowiok, who was disappeared at the age of 20. Since 1998, the Coalition against Impunity has worked on cases involving around 50 torture victims and their families, the majority of whom were German, against some 90 members of the Argentinean military. Rolf Stawowiok, born in 1957, worked as a chemist in a metalwork plant in Buenos Aires. In the afternoon of 21 February, 1978, he was forcibly abducted and has since then been considered to have been disappeared. Despite the numerous efforts of his father, who lives in Argentina, no information was given as to his whereabouts. The Stawowiok case was suspended in August 2004, along with other similar cases, by the Public Prosecutor's Office in Nuremberg-Fürth. This decision was justified by the lack of evidence proving that those disappeared had been murdered by the military according to the definition of murder in the criminal code (§ 211 StGB).  Attempts to appeal against this decision have been unsuccessful.

On 14 March 1978, the bodies of five young persons were discovered close to Buenos Aires, in the market town of Lomas de Zamora. The dead had been buried in a nameless ("N.N") mass grave. Gunshot wounds were judged to be the cause of death.  In the summer, following a comparison of DNA, a group of forensic scientists were able to identify the body Rolf Stawowiok. Along with him were discovered the bodies of Otto Krause, Héctor Ramón Rosales and Laura Isabel Feldmann, the first 18-year-old to have been found. At the time of writing it has not been possible to identify the fifth body. 

Following confirmation of their identities by an Argentinean court, the Public Prosecutor in Nuremberg-Fürth agreed to resume the investigation and requested a warrant for the arrest of ex-dictator Videla. The Federal Court in Nuremberg issued the warrant on 15 December 2009.  Due to the previously unsuccessful attempt to extradite Videla for the Käsemann case, the Prosecutor's Office has temporarily suspended the proceedings. The arrest warrant, however, remains in force.

Attorney Wolfgang Kaleck, one of the spokespersons for the Coalition against Impunity, praised the actions of the Nuremberg judiciary as "important support for the on-going efforts in Argentina to clarify and prosecute the crimes of the dictatorship." He added, "those investigations conducted in Europe, along with the arrest warrants and  sentences in Spain, Italy, France and Germany, have played a vital role in ensuring that after years of impunity, the criminal proceedings in Argentina have now been resumed."

Go back