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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Portugal

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Portugal, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The Republic of Portugal is a parliamentary democracy with a President and Legislative Assembly freely elected by secret ballot. Former Prime Minister and Socialist Party head Mario Soares was elected Portugal's first civilian president in 60 years in 1986 and reelected by a wide margin in 1991. In legislative elections in 1991, Prime Minister Cavaco Silva and his Social Democratic Party (PSD) were returned to office with an increased majority in Parliament.

Internal security is primarily the responsibility of the Ministries of Justice and Internal Administration. Security forces are fully controlled by and responsive to the Government.

Portugal has a market-based economy and is a member of the European Community. An increasing proportion of the population is employed in services, while employment in the agricultural sector continues to decline and employment in the industrial sector has been static.

Portuguese citizens enjoy a broad range of civil and other human rights. Civil rights are outlined in the Constitution with specific reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An Ombudsman, chosen by the Assembly of the Republic (legislature) to serve a 4-year term, is Portugal's chief civil and human rights officer. Any citizen may apply to the Ombudsman for relief. The Ombudsman receives about 3,000 complaints annually, most of them concerning cases of alleged misadministration by Portugal's cumbersome bureaucracy and delays in the judicial process. A government investigation of allegations of police brutality, begun in 1992, continued, in 1993 with no results announced by year's end.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no known instances of government-sanctioned political or other extrajudicial killings. No killings were attributed to domestic terrorist groups.

b. Disappearance

Government or police authorities do not abduct, secretly arrest, or otherwise illegally detain persons.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution forbids torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the use of evidence obtained under torture in criminal proceedings. The Ombudsman investigates complaints of mistreatment by police and prison authorities. A formal investigation by the Provedor de Justica of allegations of police brutality and mistreatment of prisoners, including the seven unresolved complaints cited in Amnesty International's (AI) Annual Report, began at the end of 1992. This investigation continued through 1993, with no announced results. In 1993 Portugal submitted to the Geneva-based Committee Against Torture a report on torture and mistreatment allegedly inflicted by Portuguese public security forces. AI, an observer at the proceedings in Geneva, criticized this report as lacking detailed information and statistics, particularly concerning alleged incidents involving public security police (PSP). AI noted also the lack of results from the Provedor de Justica's inquiry. The PSP responded through a press release by noting improvements in its selection and training processes, internal disciplinary actions taken against agents accused of maltreatment of citizens, and the dismissal of 64 PSP members between 1991 and 1993 for disciplinary reasons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Under Portuguese law, an investigating judge reviews the case against a person under arrest to determine whether that person should be detained, released on bail, or released outright. Persons may not be held for more than 48 hours without appearing before an investigating judge. Investigative detention is limited to a maximum of 6 months for each suspected crime. If a formal charge has not been filed within that period, the person detained must be released. In cases involving serious crimes, such as murder or armed robbery, or in cases involving more than one suspect, investigative detention is permitted for up to 2 years and may be extended by a judge to 3 years in extraordinary circumstances. A suspect must be brought to trial within 18 months of being formally charged if the suspect is held in preventive detention. If not held, there is no specified period within which the suspect must be brought to trial. The justice system has been subjected to considerable criticism for a reported backlog of half a million cases awaiting trial. The Government is taking no specific actions to eliminate the backlog, which exacerbates the problem through further buildup. Detainees have access to lawyers, who are generally effective in protecting their clients' rights. Defendants who cannot afford representation have a lawyer appointed for them by the presiding judge, who chooses from a list maintained by the Lawyers Association. Fees are paid by the Government.

Exile and incommunicado detention are illegal and not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Portugal has an independent and impartial judicial system. All trials are public except those which may offend the dignity of the victim, such as in cases involving the sexual abuse of children. The accused is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. In trials for serious crimes, a panel of three judges (which does not include the investigating judge) presides. In trials for lesser crimes, a single judge presides. A ministerial delegate assists the judges in reviewing the evidence. At the request of the accused, a jury may be used in trials for major crimes. In practice, requests for jury trials are extremely rare. Sentence may be passed only in the presence of the defense attorney.

Portugal holds no political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution forbids forced entry into homes and searches without a judicial warrant. In addition, entry into a person's home at night requires the consent of the occupant. The State does not intercept private correspondence or place wiretaps except with a court order.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of speech and press is provided for in the Constitution and respected by the State. The constitutionally mandated High Commission for Social Communication acts as a watchdog to protect freedom of speech and access to the media. The Commission, members of which are chosen by the Government and by the Assembly of the Republic, makes recommendations to the Assembly and has enforcement powers. The academic community is free to express its views.

The State owns two television channels. However, the provision of the Constitution making television a state monopoly was removed in 1990, and two privately owned television channels now operate. One of them is owned by the Catholic Church.

In principle, the Government does not exercise direct control over the state-owned television channels, though it does wield considerable influence through personnel appointments. Opposition parties sometimes charge that the state network ignores or distorts opposition views and activities; station news directors defend their decisions as based on editorial judgments, not political partisanship. All political parties, even very small ones, use their legal right to "antenna time" during prime viewing and listening hours.

Privately owned radio stations have operated in Portugal since 1989. More than 250 local privately owned stations are on the air. The entire spectrum of political thought is represented in the press. There is no press censorship. All newspapers are privately owned.

"Fascist" organizations are prohibited by law, although some small, extreme rightwing groups hold meetings of their members and run candidates for public office without interference. In September, however, the Constitutional Court began for the first time to consider whether a group – the National Action Movement – should be banned as Fascist and for its involvement in violent incidents. The Court did not reach a decision in 1993.

The law provides that a person may be prosecuted for "insulting" certain state authorities if the "insult" is intended to undermine the rule of law. There were no known prosecutions for "insult" in this sense in 1993.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

People have the right, in law and practice, to associate formally or informally to promote nonviolent causes. Public meetings or protests require 24-hour advance notice to the civil governor of the region in which the event is to be held. Permission is routinely granted. The official registration of a new political party requires 5,000 signatures.

c. Freedom of Religion

Portugal does not have a state religion. The Government does not interfere with the free practice of religion, missionary work, or religious publications. These freedoms extend to the foreign clergy, many of whom work in Portugal. Organized religious groups may establish places of worship, train clergy, and proselytize without government interference. To qualify as tax-exempt institutions, religious groups must be established as nonprofit, private societies.

Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion. Catholic religious instruction is offered as an elective course in public schools. Other denominations offer religious education in their own institutions without interference. Success in a civil, military, professional, or political career does not depend upon adherence to a religious creed. There were no reported cases of religious persecution in 1993.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for the right of freedom of movement, foreign travel, and emigration. There are no restraints on domestic travel or on the right of a person to change his domicile. Citizenship is not revoked for political reasons.

Displaced persons who qualify as refugees as defined by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol are entitled to permanent resident status and work permits. Such displaced persons are not forced to return to the country from which they fled.

Faced with a rapidly increasing number of asylum requests, which the Government characterized as 98- or 99-percent economically motivated, and a burgeoning illegal immigration problem, Portugal tightened its lenient 1980 asylum law in September 1993. Under the new law, Portugal continues to meet its international obligations concerning refugees but provides for more rapid processing of applicants. The possibility of permanent residence is retained. The law places the decision on granting asylum with the Interior Ministry instead of the judicial system.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Portugal is a multiparty, participatory democracy. Candidates for president and for legislative, regional, and municipal offices are freely nominated and are elected by secret ballot on the basis of universal suffrage.

The unicameral Assembly of the Republic is the legislative body. The Prime Minister is the head of the Government. Opposition parties and candidates operate freely and enjoy access to the media. General elections are held at least once every 4 years. The President has a 5-year mandate and may not serve more than two consecutive terms.

Women and minorities participate in the political process without restriction. Women are represented in the Parliament, holding 24 out of 230 seats, including the office of Vice President of the Assembly.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Local and international human rights groups operate freely in Portugal. The Government cooperates with independent outside investigations of human rights conditions and actively participates in the monitoring of human rights by the Council of Europe.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution forbids discrimination based on ancestry, sex, race, language, territory of origin, religion, political or ideological convictions, education, economic situation, or social condition.


Various women's groups in Portugal have drawn attention to the largely hidden problem of violence against women, particularly within the family. Portuguese law provides for criminal penalties in cases of violence between husbands and wives without referring specifically to violence against wives. Women's groups point out that traditional attitudes discourage many women who suffer such violence from seeking recourse in the judicial system. They complain that Portugal lacks institutions established specifically to provide relief to battered women. No specific institutions were established in 1993 to provide such relief. However, when complaints are brought, the judicial system is not reluctant to prosecute those accused of abusing women.

The Civil Code provides for full legal equality for women. Women are increasing their representation in universities, business, science, government, and the professions. Traditional attitudes of male dominance persist but are changing gradually. The Commission for Equality and Rights of Women, an official organization established in 1976, is a leading advocate of women's rights.

The Commission for Equality in Work and Employment, an entity of the Ministry of Employment and Social Security, commissioned a study, completed in 1993, entitled "Sexual Harassment in the Workplace." The study reported that 72 percent of respondents believed incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace were frequent and 87 percent believed the incidents that occurred were serious. The study noted that the reaction of victims of such harassment was characterized by passivity. The study concluded that sexual harassment and its usual nonrecognition, as well as the absence of legal means to fight harassment, are factors in discrimination that injure the dignity of female workers in Portugal.


The government entity to promote the welfare of children is the Institute for Support of Children. According to the Institute, it has been allocated inadequate funds. Most of the funds it does receive are spent on publicity campaigns against the abuse of child labor. It attempts to discourage the use of children as a means of reducing labor costs in low-technology, home-based industries (see Section 6.d.).

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The principal minority groups are immigrants, legal and illegal, from Portugal's former African colonies (Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and Sao Tome and Principe). Cape Verdeans comprise the largest such group, over 25,000. There is also a resident Gypsy population. Societies for African immigrants publicize the problems of their members, including those stemming from what they perceive as racism. The Government denies that racist actions are taking place.

The press reported, however, a number of racially motivated incidents in 1993 that were apparently perpetrated by small, loosely knit "skinhead" groups. In a September incident with racial overtones, the Embassy of Sao Tome and Principe claimed that one of its diplomats was assaulted without provocation by a policeman in a Lisbon train station. Although he did not admit intentional wrongdoing by the police, President Mario Soares closed this incident with an apology to the Government of Sao Tome and Principe.

People with Disabilities

While there have been no reported allegations of discrimination against persons with disabilities in the areas of employment or provision of state services, handicapped individuals consider there is much room for improvement. Legislation mandates access to public facilities for persons with disabilities, and it is generally complied with. No such legislation covers private businesses or other facilities. While there is no legislation prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities, the Portuguese Government has issued administrative decrees and regulations to that effect.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers in both the private and public sectors have the right to associate freely and to establish committees in the workplace "to defend their interests." The Constitution provides for the right to establish unions by profession or industry. Trade union associations are guaranteed the right to participate in the preparation of labor legislation. Strikes are permitted for any reason, including political causes. They are common and are generally resolved through direct negotiations between management and the unions involved. Lockouts are prohibited. These constitutional guarantees are respected in practice.

There are two principal labor federations. The General Union of Workers (UGT) is a pluralist democratic federation affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). The General Confederation of Portuguese Workers Intersindical (CGTP-IN) is linked to the Communist Party and engages freely in cooperative activities with the formerly Soviet-controlled World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). The CGTP was expected to enter the ETUC in 1993 but this did not occur, partly as the result of conflicts within the CGTP itself.

Both federations and their affiliates function free from government control but are closely associated with political parties. The CGTP-IN generally supports the Communist Party's policies and causes, but this position continued to be openly criticized by elements of the membership in 1993. UGT leaders are associated with either the Socialist or the Social Democratic Party. Although some UGT leaders serve in the Assembly of the Republic, the Federation pursues a generally independent path that occasionally puts it in conflict with the Socialist or the Social Democratic Party or both, as well as the Government. The labor movement in Portugal exercises significant influence on areas of social and economic policy-making.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Unions are free to organize without government or employer interference. Collective bargaining is guaranteed by the Constitution and practiced extensively in the public and private sectors. Collective bargaining disputes rarely lead to prolonged strike action. Should a long strike occur in a key sector (for example, health or transportation), the Government is empowered to order the workers back to work for a specific period. The Government has rarely done so, in part because most strikes are limited to periods of 1 to 3 days. Under a modification of the strike law, a "minimal level of service" must be provided during certain strikes, including those in the public health, energy, and transportation sectors. The modified law was first applied in a rail workers strike in March. Minimal levels of service were successfully established by common agreement with the Government. When collective bargaining fails, the Government, at the request of either management or labor, may appoint a mediator.

Union officials and members are protected by law against antiunion discrimination, and this law is observed in practice. Complaints are promptly examined by the General Directorate of Labor.

Portugal has no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced labor is prohibited and does not exist in Portugal. This prohibition is enforced by the General Labor Inspectorate.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum employment age has been 15 years since 1992. It is to be raised to 16 when the period of 9 years of compulsory schooling takes effect on January 1, 1997.

The UGT and CGTP-IN have charged that a number of "clandestine" companies in the textile, shoe, and construction industries in northern Portugal exploit child labor. It is difficult to quantify the extent of child labor exploitation because much child labor has been transferred to home facilities. Government inspection teams can enter such facilities only with search warrants. In practical terms, control is extremely difficult because of the dispersed nature of the problem and the administrative complexity of police entry for investigative purposes. Control of underage employment is thereby frustrated. According to the Government's General Labor Inspectorate, which is responsible for enforcement of child labor laws, between 30,000 and 35,000 children from 12 to 15 years of age are working in Portugal. The Inspectorate's funding has been increased, and the number of inspectors is growing. Since the law was changed to raise the maximum fine, the Inspectorate has begun to levy large fines on employers found to be using child labor. The Government has yet to allocate resources sufficient to cope effectively with the problem, however, which has thus remained essentially unresolved.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wage legislation covers full-time workers, as well as rural workers and domestic employees aged 18 or over. The current minimum monthly wage of about $278, established on January 1, 1993, is generally enforced. Even with rent control and various social assistance subsidies, it is difficult for a single-income family to maintain a decent standard of living on the minimum wage income, particularly in urban areas.

Current legislation limits regular hours of work to 8 hours per day and 44 hours per week, but agreement has been reached to reduce the workweek to 40 hours by 1995. Overtime is limited to 2 hours per day, up to 200 hours annually. Work on a normal day off is restricted to 8 hours. These limits are respected in practice. Workers are guaranteed 30 days of paid annual leave per year. The Ministry of Employment and Social Security monitors compliance through its regional inspectors.

Employers are legally responsible for accidents at work and are required by law to carry accident insurance. Portugal has developed a body of legislation that regulates safety and health. Labor unions consider these regulations inadequate and continue to press for stiffer legislation. The General Directorate of Hygiene and Labor Security develops safety standards, and the General Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcement but, as in the case of alleged child labor abuses, the Inspectorate lacks sufficient funds and inspectors to combat the problem effectively. Accidents average between 70,000 and 75,000 per quarter. These figures have focused government attention particularly on the construction industry. Poor environmental controls on the textile industry, concentrated in the north of Portugal, caused considerable concern. The ability of workers to remove themselves from situations where these hazards exist is limited, but it is difficult to fire workers for any reason. Civil lawsuits are rarely initiated in accident cases.

[1]* A report on Macau, a dependency of Portugal off the southern coast of China, is available as a separate entry.

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