Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo – 1992, Argentina

The ‘Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo’ led a peaceful resistance movement against the military dictatorship and repression in Argentina in response to the forced disappearance and torture of political opponents.

The movement was born out of attempts by several Argentinian mothers to find their 'disappeared' children during Argentina's Dirty War (1976-1983). During this time, the military regime abducted, tortured and killed thousands of political opponents, stealing children born to prisoners and obliterating any trace of its victims.

Las Madres, most of whom were apolitical housewives, were the ones who dared to protest against the military at the height of the dictatorship and, after the fall of the regime, it was they who called for officials involved in the repression to be judged. Hundreds of these officials have since been found guilty. The movement was launched on 30 April 1977, when 14 mothers staged the first protest in the Plaza de Mayo, in front of the presidential Casa Rosada. Although they were ordered to disperse, the courageous mothers began to walk slowly, arm-in-arm, around the square. Every week more mothers joined the protests as left-wing activists and people accused of collaborating with them continued to be 'disappeared'.

Las Madres began to attract international attention with their emblematic white scarves, the photos and names of their disappeared children and their pleas for their safe return. The regime killed three of the founding members of the movement in an attempt to shut it down. In December 1977, Azucena Villaflor de Vincenti, Mary Ponce de Bianco and Esther Ballestrino de Careaga were abducted, tortured and thrown to their deaths from an aeroplane. Other members of Las Madres were beaten and detained but continued their peaceful resistance. Las Madres turned their focus to demanding justice as massive human rights abuses, a plunging economy and the loss of the Falklands War brought an end to the military regime in 1983.

Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo split in 1986. The main association, headed by Hebe de Bonafini, refused to acknowledge the death of Argentinian dissidents until those responsible for their murder were brought to justice. A breakaway group called the Founding Line focused on the recovery of the victims' remains.

In 1992, when the European Parliament recognised Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo with the Sakharov Prize, the association was fiercely resisting the conclusion of the trials related to the abuses of the dictatorship.

Hebe de Bonafini, who was elected leader of the undivided Madres in 1979 and still leads the association today, accepted the Sakharov Prize on behalf of the mothers' children 'who were the first to struggle for freedom'. Las Madres used the prize money to finance their various social initiatives, which include the Universidad Popular Madres de Plaza de Mayo.

Las Madres continue their Thursday march in the Plaza de Mayo, accompanied by crowds of supporters, while questions remain over the fate of their missing children. Hebe de Bonafini passed away on 20 November 2022.