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Amnesty International Report 2004 - Portugal

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 26 May 2004
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2004 - Portugal , 26 May 2004, available at: [accessed 23 November 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 2003

Fatal shootings by police officers highlighted failures to ensure that firearms were used only in exceptional circumstances. International human rights bodies expressed concern about police use of firearms; reports of disproportionate use of force and ill-treatment by the police; the slow functioning of the justice system; and the excessive use and length of pre-trial detention. The safety of detainees in some prisons remained under threat, including from self-harm and inter-prisoner violence. Overcrowding and inadequate medical care and sanitary facilities were of particular concern in many prisons where conditions failed to comply with international standards. Roma and other ethnic minority communities continued to experience racism and other discrimination.


The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe visited Portugal in May and expressed several concerns, including about the functioning of the criminal justice system, prison conditions, and lack of respect for human rights by law enforcement officials.

In July the UN Human Rights Committee considered Portugal's third periodic report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee criticized the failure to submit a report for more than 10 years, and the lack of information on the work of the Ombudsperson. It recommended legislative amendments to require that anyone held in pre-trial detention be charged and tried within a reasonable time, and that magistrates authorize pre-trial detention only as a last resort.

In October, Portugal ratified Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights, concerning the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances.

AI submitted its recommendations for the implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to the parliamentary Commission on Constitutional Affairs, Rights, Freedoms and Guarantees, which was drafting the relevant legislation at the end of 2003.

A public debate – at times confrontational – about the criminal justice system, involving judges, lawyers, politicians and the media, was generated by the arrest and pre-trial detention of some public figures, including a prominent opposition politician. The arrests were in connection with allegations of sexual abuse at a state-run school for orphans and deprived children.

Policing concerns

Police use of firearms continued to be of concern. In November the General Inspectorate of the Internal Administration drew attention to six fatal shootings by the police since the beginning of 2003, and reportedly stated that police authorities were failing to ensure that firearms were used only in exceptional circumstances.

At the international level, the Human Rights Committee expressed concern about recent police killings in disputed circumstances, reports of disproportionate use of force and ill-treatment by officers, and recurrent police violence towards members of ethnic minorities. The Committee was also concerned by reported failures of the judicial and disciplinary systems to deal promptly and effectively with allegations of grave police misconduct. It suggested the establishment of "a police oversight service, independent from the Ministry of the Interior". The Commissioner for Human Rights regretted the practice of suspending disciplinary proceedings pending a criminal investigation into allegations of grave police misconduct, and of discontinuing them if no criminal charges were brought.

  • The trial started in November of a police officer charged with homicide in connection with the death of António Pereira in June 2002 in the town of Setúbal.

Prison concerns

Safeguards to prevent self-harm and inter-prisoner violence, and to identify vulnerable detainees, were inadequate, causing concern that the authorities were failing to protect the right to life of people in prison. There were some new reports of ill-treatment and harassment of detainees by prison officers. The authorities failed to ensure that convicted prisoners were held separately from detainees in pre-trial detention and that prisoners received adequate medical care. Reports persisted of widespread infectious diseases, and drug trafficking and use inside prisons. Conditions and sanitary facilities in some prisons remained below international standards: the latest available figures showed that 17 per cent of detainees were still using buckets as toilets in February 2002. Overcrowding aggravated all other problems in the prison system.

The Human Rights Committee expressed concern about reports of ill-treatment and abuse of authority by prison staff and of violence, in some cases lethal, among prisoners. It recommended increased efforts to eliminate violence in prisons; ensure the separation of convicted prisoners and pre-trial detainees; make appropriate and timely medical care available to all detainees; and reduce overcrowding.

In November the Ombudsperson published his first report on prisons since 1998. It drew attention to inadequate medical care and factors threatening the safety of detainees and prison staff. These included malfunctioning cell doors and inadequate systems to enable prisoners in solitary confinement to call for help, coupled in some cases with only sporadic checks by prison staff. He also stressed the potential for abuse in the lack of clear separation between disciplinary measures, security measures and measures pertaining to the regime of detainees regarded as dangerous. The Ombudsperson recommended that detainees must have legal assistance of their choice in proceedings for the application of security and disciplinary measures. Full reasons should be given for any decision to subject a detainee to a security or disciplinary measure, and all prisons should implement the requirement that the governor or a deputy must always hear a detainee before imposing the measure.

Concern regarding the situation in prisons was also voiced by the Human Rights Commission of the national Bar Association.

  • Three self-inflicted deaths and one killing, allegedly as a result of violence between prisoners, were reported at the Vale de Judeus prison. The criminal investigation into the killings of two prisoners at the same prison in October 2001 was in the final stage. Some reports had implicated custodial staff in the killings. However, no charges had been brought at the end of the year.

Racism and discrimination

Despite measures to integrate people of Roma origin, discrimination continued, particularly in education, housing and access to employment and social services. There were reports of harassment and discriminatory treatment of Roma people by some local police authorities. Occasional attempts by some local councils to harass Roma groups and induce them to leave the area were also reported.

The Human Rights Committee expressed concern about prejudice against Roma people. The authorities failed to provide the Committee with information, including statistical data, on the situation of the Roma, on the work of institutions responsible for their advancement and welfare or on complaints – and their outcomes – filed by members of ethnic minorities, including Roma, with those institutions.

Asylum-seekers and refugees

The Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about the requirement that asylum applications must be lodged within eight days of entry into the country and procedures that allowed for removals while decisions on appeals against initial rejections of asylum claims were pending. The Office of the National Commissioner for Refugees was reportedly reluctant to hear applicants before ruling on their appeals against rejection of their asylum claims, raising concern about its independence from the immigration service.

The Human Rights Committee expressed concern that domestic law did not provide effective remedies against forcible return, in violation of the state's international human rights obligations not to return people to countries where they would be at risk of grave human rights abuses.

Violence against women

According to data of the national Commission for Equality and the Rights of Women, an average of five women a month die in Portugal as a result of domestic violence.

Despite praising national legislation on domestic violence, the Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about failure to make use of available protection measures, for example to prevent perpetrators from having access to the home of their victims. Despite 1991 legislation providing for specialized police units to tackle domestic violence, they had not been established by the end of 2003. However, according to the Commissioner for Human Rights, a number of programs, including training for officers, were improving police responsiveness to domestic violence. Legislation passed in 1999 in connection with the First National Plan against Domestic Violence, which provided for the creation of reception and assistance centres in all districts for women affected by domestic violence, had not been fully implemented. The Second National Plan against Domestic Violence, for the period 2003-2006, was adopted in June. It provided for, among other things, the training of judges and a revision of procedures to obtain compensation for people affected by domestic violence.

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