Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 07:45 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Portugal

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Portugal, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 31 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, a Prime Minister and a Legislative Assembly freely elected by secret ballot.

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

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

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 maladministration by the bureaucracy or delays in the judicial process. The principal human rights problem concerns credible, though limited, reports of beatings of detainees or prisoners by police or prison personnel. The Government, criticized for being slow to investigate such reports, has dismissed or forcibly retired some officials found guilty of such abuse (see Section 1.c.).


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 any 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. In 1994 the Government and Amnesty International (AI) continued their dialog on allegations of police brutality in Portugal. The AI annual report added three new allegations of police mistreatment of detainees. Three previous AI cases were reported as apparently resolved by disciplinary action, although in some the disciplined agents were appealing the action. AI and the U.N. Committee Against Torture lamented the delay in investigating such allegations. In January a delegation of the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Punishment (CPT) visited police and prison establishments in response to allegations of maltreatment of detainees and prisoners. The CPT's report, issued in July, found the allegations to be corroborated. It recommended corrective steps such as improving detainees' access to counsel and to medical treatment. In response, the Government admitted to some problems with control and supervision of police officers; but it characterized the operation of the public security forces as positive overall, and said violations of citizens' rights by the security forces were "exceptional cases." The Government established a continuing dialog with the CPT.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Under the law, an investigatve judge determines whether an arrested person should be detained, released on bail, or released outright. Persons may not be held 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 detainee must be released. In cases of serious crimes (e.g., murder or armed robbery), or more than one suspect, investigative detention may be for up to 2 years and may be extended by a judge to 3 years in extraordinary circumstances. A suspect in preventive detention must be brought to trial within 18 months of being formally charged. If the suspect is not in detention, there is no specified period for going to trial. A detainee has access to lawyers; the State assumes the cost if necessary.

The judicial system has been much criticized for a large backlog of pending trials.

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 of sexual abuse of children. The accused is presumed innocent. In trials for serious crimes, a panel of three judges presides. For lesser crimes, a single judge presides. 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.

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 Government may intercept private correspondence, or make wiretaps, only on the basis of 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 to protect this freedom; its members, chosen by the Government and the Assembly of the Republic, make recommendations to the Assembly and have enforcement powers. 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 on this basis in 1994.

The State owns two television channels, and two are privately owned. The Government does not directly control the state-owned channels, but it wields considerable influence through personnel appointments. Opposition parties sometimes charge that state network with political bias; station news directors deny this. The law gives all political parties, even relatively tiny ones, the right to use "antenna time" during prime hours, and all do so. More than 250 local privately owned radio stations are now on the air. There is no press censorship. All newspapers are privately owned.

Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for this freedom, and the authorities respect these provisions. Public meetings or protests require 24-hour advance notice to the civil governor of the region. Permission is routinely granted. The official registration of a new political party requires 5,000 signatures.

The law prohibits Fascist organizations. Some small, extreme rightwing groups hold meetings and run candidates for public office without interference. In January the Constitutional Court refused to rule on whether the rightwing National Action Movement (MAN) was Fascist and should be banned; the Court ruled that the organization had dissolved itself during the course of the Court's consideration. The question had been raised by the Attorney General, after the involvement of some MAN members in violent acts.

c. Freedom of Religion

Portugal does not have a state religion, and the Government does not interfere with the free practice of religion.

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 citizen to change domicile. Citizenship is not revoked for political reasons.

Displaced persons who qualify as refugees (as defined by the International Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees) are entitled to permanent resident status and work permits.

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

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

Elections to the unicameral Assembly of the Republic 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 formal restriction. Women hold 24 of 230 seats in the Assembly, including the Vice Presidency of that body.

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

Local and international human rights groups operate freely. The Government cooperates with independent outside investigations of human rights conditions, responds to the findings of such investigations, 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.


Women's groups have drawn increasing attention to the largely hidden problem of domestic and other violence against women. The law provides for criminal penalties in cases of violence by a spouse. Traditional societal attitudes discourage many battered women from recourse to the judicial system. Women's groups complain that Portugal lacks institutions established specifically to provide relief to battered women. The judicial system shows no apparent reluctance to prosecute suspects accused of abusing women.

The Civil Code provides for full legal equality for women. Sexual harassment, an issue gaining public attention, is covered in the Penal Code as a sex crime, but only if perpetrated by a superior and in the workplace. As in the case of violence, socially ingrained attitudes discourage many women from taking advantage of their legal protection in this area. 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 the Equality and Rights of Women, an official organization under the Ministry of Employment and Social Security, is a leading and effective advocate of women's rights.


The Government is committed to the rights and welfare of children, and has established mechanisms to protect children. The responsible governmental entity, the Institute for Support of Children, complains that it has not been allocated adequate funds to fulfill its responsibilities. Most of its funds are spent on campaigns publicizing abuse of child labor, which occurs mainly 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; there is also a resident Roma population. African immigrants continued to organize to protest what they perceive as racism in Portugal. The Government continued to deny that significant racist offenses have been occurring, while the press continued to report occasional racially motivated incidents apparently perpetrated by small, unorganized skinhead groups. The police pursue such incidents as vigorously as they pursue other crimes.

People with Disabilities

There is no discrimination against disabled persons in employment or in provision of state services. Their access to public facilities is mandated by legislation, which is generally complied with. There is no such legislation covering private businesses or other facilities.

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 have the right to participate in the preparation of labor legislation. Strikes are permitted for any reason, including political causes; they are common, and generally are resolved through direct negotiations. The authorities respect all provisions of the law on labor's rights.

There are two principal labor federations. Unions function without hindrance by the Government, and are closely associated with political parties. The labor movement exercises significant influence on social and economic policymaking.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Unions are free to organize without interference by the Government or by employers. 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 an essential sector such as health, energy, or transportation, the Government may 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. The law requires a "minimum level of service" to be provided during strikes in essential sectors, but this has been infrequently applied. When it has been applied, minimum levels of service have been established by agreement between the Government and the striking unions, although unions complain the levels have been too high. When collective bargaining fails, the Government may appoint a mediator, at the request of either management or labor.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, and the authorities respect this prohibition. 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 occur.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum employment age is 15 years. It is to be raised to 16 when the period of 9 years of compulsory schooling takes effect on January 1, 1997. The two main labor federations, and observers from other European countries, have charged that a number of "clandestine" companies in the textile, shoe, and construction industries exploit child labor.

The Government's General Labor Inspectorate, which is responsible for enforcement of child labor laws, admits that thousands of children under age 15 are employed illegally, but says the number is declining. The Inspectorate's funding has been increased, and the number of inspectors and inspections continues to grow. The Inspectorate has levied increasingly large fines on employers who use child labor.

Union observers agree that the number of illegally employed children in Portugal is falling, but they attribute this to the general rise in unemployment. Unions are entering into local alliances with church groups, citizens groups, and local government bodies to attack the multiple causes of child labor. While some improvements have been effected, the Government does not allocate resources sufficient to address the problem fully.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum-wage legislation covers full-time workers, as well as rural workers and domestic employees age 18 or over. The current minimum monthly wage of about $320 (49,500 escudos) 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, 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 in principle to reduce the workweek to 40 hours by 1995. Implementation remains under discussion in connection with other broad issues affecting labor. Overtime is limited to 2 hours a day, up to 200 hours annually. Work during what is normally a 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, but labor unions continue to argue for stiffer legislation. The General Directorate of Hygiene and Labor Security develops safety standards, and the General Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcement; but the Inspectorate lacks sufficient funds and inspectors to combat the problem effectively. Accidents average between 70,000 and 75,000 per quarter. A relatively large proportion are in the construction industry. Poor environmental controls in textile production also cause considerable concern. While the ability of workers to remove themselves from situations where these hazards exist is limited, it is difficult to fire workers for any reason. Workers injured on the job rarely initiate lawsuits.

Search Refworld