Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 October 2017, 08:48 GMT

Amnesty International Report 2005 - Portugal

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 25 May 2005
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2005 - Portugal , 25 May 2005, available at: [accessed 17 October 2017]
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.

Covering events from January - December 2004

Disproportionate use of force and ill-treatment by police officers continued to give rise to concern about Portugal's failure to comply with international law and standards. There were reports of ill-treatment and other forms of abuse by prison officers. Systemic failures to ensure the protection of the human rights of detainees in Lisbon prison were exposed. The rate of deaths in prisons was alarmingly high. International human rights monitoring bodies expressed concern about Portugal's human rights record.


In an opinion published in March, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about long-standing procedural shortcomings in the exercise of the right to legally challenge detention on remand. The Commissioner concluded that such detention ought to be the exception and should, therefore, not be imposed without appropriate procedural guarantees.

In July the Sixth Revision of the Portuguese Constitution entered into force. It included a prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The government approved proposals for reform of the prison system in June. The objectives included achieving a humane, just and safe prison system aimed at social rehabilitation; protecting inmates' fundamental rights; improving detention conditions; fulfilling inmates' health needs; combating overcrowding; and regular oversight of the functioning and quality of the prison service by internal and external bodies.

Policing concerns

Disproportionate use of force and ill-treatment by police officers continued to be reported. No steps were known to have been taken to establish an oversight agency, independent of the Ministry of the Interior, with powers to investigate grave human rights violations by law enforcement officials and to enforce disciplinary measures, as recommended by the UN Human Rights Committee in August 2003. There also appeared to have been no response to the criticism of police use of firearms by the General Inspectorate of the Internal Administration (GIIA), made public in November 2003.

AI reiterated long-standing concerns about the arbitrary use of force, including lethal force, by the police to the Minister of the Interior in May. Concern arose, in particular, from reports that the police had used firearms and rubber bullets unnecessarily or disproportionately to the threat posed, if any, to the officers involved, and that individuals might have been unlawfully killed as a result. Police training and operational guidelines were reportedly inadequate, and insufficient measures had been taken to ensure implementation of international laws and standards in policing practices.

  • In January the Minister of the Interior reportedly decided that the police officer involved in the killing of Nuno Lucas in August 2002 should be expelled from the police force. A disciplinary investigation by the GIIA had reportedly concluded that – irrespective of whether the discharge of fire had been intentional or unintentional – the use of a firearm in the circumstances had been improper (indevido).
  • In March a police officer on trial for the homicide of António Pereira in June 2002 was acquitted after claiming he had not been aware that rubber bullets could kill and had not been trained in the use of the rubber bullet shotgun. Important questions remained about the circumstances of the killing, and about the accountability of all those involved in allowing police officers to use weapons without adequate training and in the reported absence of guidelines on the circumstances in which bullets could be discharged.
  • In December the trial began in Lisbon of six people, three of them police officers reportedly accused of assaulting the other three defendants in 1995.

Prison concerns

Ill-treatment and other forms of abuse by prison officers were reported in a number of prisons. The Office of the Ombudsman appeared to have insufficient resources to discharge fully and effectively its tasks, including investigating detainees' complaints.

Concerns about the safety of detainees persisted. Safeguards to prevent self-harm, including through the identification of vulnerable inmates, remained inadequate in some prisons, as did systems to ensure detainees necessary assistance at night and in disciplinary cells. The incidence of reportedly self-inflicted deaths remained of concern, including in the prisons of Lisbon, Sintra and Coimbra. In Vale de Judeus prison, there were three reported suicides in January alone. An alarmingly high number of inmates, 70 in total and two thirds of them held on remand, were reported to have died in prison in 2004.

Conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment continued in several prisons, frequently resulting from overcrowding and seriously inadequate sanitary facilities. In some prisons, conditions in disciplinary cells were extremely poor. In others, detainees were reportedly locked in their cells for up to 23 hours without access to fresh air, sometimes for several days at a time. Health care provisions continued to be inadequate, despite high rates of HIV and other serious medical conditions in the prison population. The authorities continued to fail to ensure the separation of convicted prisoners from pre-trial detainees. Lawyers expressed concern that detainees did not receive copies of prison rules, leaving them unaware of their rights, including in relation to disciplinary proceedings.

  • An inquiry by prison service inspectors into the beating of Albino Libânio in Lisbon Prison in November 2003 found that he had sustained multiple injuries. He had not received medical assistance, despite the injuries he sustained, reportedly as a result of an assault that may have amounted to torture. At the end of 2004, a criminal investigation was pending, and disciplinary proceedings against a number of prison officers had been opened. The circumstances of the attack and the refusal of virtually all the prison officers at Lisbon Prison to cooperate with the internal inquiry raised fears that it had not been an isolated incident, and that the inquiry had exposed systemic failures to ensure the protection of detainees' human rights.

Racism and discrimination

The unavailability of relevant data and statistical information was a significant obstacle to assessing the extent to which law enforcement was affected by racism and discrimination. There appeared to be no statistics available on the ethnicity of the individuals subjected to "stop and search" practices by the police, or on the ethnicity (and not just the nationality) of detainees.

In August, after considering Portugal's 10th and 11th periodic reports under the UN Convention against Racism, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) adopted Concluding Observations.

The government's reports under consideration by the CERD contained unsubstantiated assertions about the circumstances of the fatal shootings by police, in two separate incidents, of Ângelo Semedo and António Pereira in 2002, apparently to justify the conduct of the officers involved in the killings. The areas where the killings took place were described as "marginal neighbourhood[s]", and Bela Vista, in Setúbal, where António Pereira was killed, as "a kind of ghetto, where the police, who feel unwelcome, fear to enter". Reports continued of policing being carried out in a discriminatory manner in deprived areas, where people belonging to ethnic and other minorities often felt they were being targeted by officers but did not have sufficient trust in the police to lodge a complaint.

Among the CERD's concerns were the lack of statistical data on the ethnic composition of the population, the continuing occurrence of racially motivated acts and incitement to hatred, and the persistence of intolerance and discrimination towards minorities. It recommended the adoption of criminal legislation establishing racist motivations as aggravating circumstances in the perpetration of an offence. Concern was also raised about allegations of police misconduct – including excessive use of force and ill-treatment – towards ethnic minorities or people of non-Portuguese origin. The CERD recommended thorough, impartial and effective investigations of those incidents, bringing those responsible to justice, the provision of remedies and compensation to the victims, and intensive training for law enforcement officials to ensure they respect and protect the human rights of all, without discrimination. In addition, the CERD expressed concern about the isolation of some groups of immigrants and members of ethnic minorities in areas it described as "ghetto-like neighbourhoods", and highlighted the difficulties experienced by members of the Romani minority in areas such as employment, education and housing.

Finally, the CERD expressed concern about the non-suspensive effect of appeal in the admissibility phase of the asylum procedure, and recommended that Portugal respect the legal safeguards for asylum-seekers ensuring that its asylum legislation and procedures comply with relevant international obligations.

AI country visits

An AI delegation visited Portugal in March.

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