One of the best-known human rights organizations to emerge in response to the dirty wars in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Association of Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo) began its silent vigils on April 30, 1977, protesting against and demanding accountability for the disappearance of their children during the Argentine military dictatorship (1976–83; it is estimated that during this period the military disappeared between 15,000 and 30,000 persons).
Every Thursday afternoon, from 3:30 to 4:00 p.m., the Mothers would gather at the May Pyramid (Pirámide de Mayo) in the Plaza de Mayo in front of the presidential palace, wearing white head scarves, often carrying photographs of their missing children, and walk slowly in circles, demanding government accountability for their disappeared sons and daughters. The founding members of the organization included Azucena Villaflor Devincenti (its first president); Berta Braverman; Haydée García Buelas; the four sisters María Adela Gard de Antokoletz, Julia Gard, María Mercedes Gard, Cándida Gard; Delicia González; Pepa Noia; Mirta Baravalle; Kety Neuhaus; Raquel Arcushin; and Señora De Caimi. The Mothers’ Association slowly grew, despite the detention and disappearance of some of its founding members, including its first president, Azucena Devincenti. By the early 1980s the Madres had grown to several thousand members and garnered the support of key international human rights groups, including Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
Many consider that the Madres played an important role in delegitimizing the military dictatorship and helping to usher in the period of democratic rule from 1983. The Madres have continued their weekly vigils from 1977 to the present writing, demanding that the government account for their missing children and that the responsible parties be subjected to criminal prosecution, and refusing government offers of monetary compensation (reparación económica) if not accompanied by acknowledgment of responsibility. In 1986 the group split into two main factions: the Mothers of the Founding Line (Linea Fundadora), led by Hebe de Bonafini, and the Madres; each currently maintains its own Web site. The group has received international accolades for advancing the cause of human rights, including the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought (1992), the United Nations Prize for Peace Education (1999), and the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights (2003).
The Mothers of the Founding Line has been criticized by some for its lack of internal democracy, cults of personality, and other factors. The Madres also spawned the formation of related groups, including the Association of Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Asociación Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo). Both factions of the Madres continue to demand government accountability for crimes perpetrated during the dirty war, and remain active in the field of human rights.