Last Updated: Monday, 30 May 2016, 14:07 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Portugal

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Portugal, 30 January 1996, 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[1] is a constitutional democracy with a president, an independent judiciary, a prime minister and a legislative assembly freely elected by secret ballot in multiparty elections. nternal 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 which the Government generally respects. Civil rights are outlined in the Constitution with specific reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The principal human rights problem is the occasional beatings of detainees or prisoners by police or prison personnel. Credible--although infrequent--reports of this problem continued in 1995, as did reports of poor conditions in prisons. Domestic violence against women is reportedly common.

Respect for Human Rights

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

a. Political and other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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. An independent Ombudsman, chosen by the Legislative Assembly (parliament), investigates complaints of mistreatment by police and prison authorities.

The Government and Amnesty International (AI) have continued their dialogue on allegations of police brutality. One case of mistreatment of two citizens by the National Republican Guard (GNR), which AI had been following since 1992, was apparently resolved by the sentencing of several GNR soldiers to prison terms. They remained free on appeal, however. At the same time, new credible allegations of police brutality were lodged, including a widely publicized incident involving injuries to a prominent lawyer and employee of the Lisbon city government. AI and the United Nations Committee Against Torture lamented the delay in investigating such allegations. While the Government admits to some problems with control and supervision of police officers, it characterizes the operation of the public security forces as positive overall and says violations of citizens' rights by the security forces are "exceptional cases."

The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Punishment and the International Observer of Prisons maintained a dialogue with the Government on prison conditions. Based on visits to prisons, these observers noted instances of brutal treatment by guards and general failure to meet minimum standards. Corrective steps such as improving access to counsel and to medical treatment have been recommended. A lack of resources inhibits progress in this area.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Under the law, an investigating 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, for example murder or armed robbery, or of 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 investigative 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.

Exile and incommunicado detention are illegal and not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is independent and impartial. The judicial system provides citizens with a fair legal process; it has been much criticized, however, for a large backlog of pending trials resulting from inefficient functioning of the courts. The court system, laid out in the Constitution, consists of a

Constitutional Court, a Supreme Court of Justice, and judicial courts of first and second instance. There is also a court of accounts, which functions as a court of appeal.

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.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or


The Constitution forbids such practices, and its provisions are respected in practice. Violations are subject to effective legal sanctions.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of speech and the press is provided for in the Constitution, and the Government respects these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and of the press, including academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for these rights, and the authorities generally respect these provisions.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

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

The Constitution and laws provide for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice.

The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. Persons who qualify as refugees are entitled to residence permits. There were no reports of forced expulsions of those having a valid claim to refugee status.

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

Portugal is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy. The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections on the basis of universal suffrage.

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

A number of local and international human rights groups operate freely, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally cooperate, although most groups complain of slow investigations or remedial actions.

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, and the Government enforces these prohibitions.


Women's groups continued to draw attention to the largely hidden but reportedly common 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 increasingly represented 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 through the Institute for Support of Children. This governmental body complains that it has not been allocated adequate funds to fulfill its responsibilities. Most of the funds it does receive are spent on campaigns publicizing the abuse of child labor, which occurs mainly in low technology home based industries (see Section 6.d.). Otherwise there is no pattern of societal abuse of children.

People With Disabilities

There is no discrimination against disabled persons in employment, education, or the provision of other 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.

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. The press has continued to report occasional racially motivated incidents perpetrated by small unorganized skinhead groups. Government denials that significant racist offenses have occurred were called into question by an incident in June in which a large number of skinheads rampaged through a downtown Lisbon neighborhood, assaulting numerous persons they believed to be African immigrants and killing one. The police pursued this and other such incidents as vigorously as other crimes.

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 constitutionally 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.

Two principal labor federations exist. There are no restrictions on the formation of additional labor federations. Unions function without hindrance by the Government and are closely associated with political parties. There are no restrictions on the ability of unions to join federations or on federations affiliating with international labor bodies.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Unions are free to organize without interference by the Government or by employers. Collective bargaining is provided for in 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. This did not occur in 1995. The Government has rarely invoked this power, 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, minimum levels of service have been established by agreement between the Government and the striking unions, although unions have complained, including to the International Labor Organization, that the minimum levels have been set 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 enforce this prohibition in practice. Complaints are promptly examined by the General Directorate of Labor.

There are 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 years 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 are found employing child labor. Government statistics derived from labor inspections indicate that the incidence of child labor has been greatly reduced in recent years. Critics rejoin that most children are employed in home workshops and other settings beyond the reach of inspectors.

Union observers agree that the number of illegally employed children is falling, but they attribute this to the general rise in unemployment. Unions continued to form local alliances with church groups, citizens groups, and local government bodies to address the multiple social and economic 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 monthly minimum wage of about $340 (Esc 52,000) 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.

The law limits regular hours of work to 8 hours per day and 44 hours per week. 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 22 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. An existing body of legislation regulates safety and health, but labor unions continue to argue for stiffer laws. 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 of work accidents effectively. A relatively large proportion of accidents is 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.

[1] A separate report on Macau, recognized by both China and Portugal as Chinese territory under Portuguese administration, follows this report. (Ed.: The report on Macau is included as a separate entry.)

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