U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - Portugal

The Portuguese Republic is a constitutional democracy with a President, a Prime Minister, a Legislative Assembly freely elected by secret ballot in multiparty elections, and an independent judiciary. 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. An increasing proportion of the labor force 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. Credible reports continued that security personnel occasionally beat detainees. Prison conditions remained poor. A large case backlog leads to lengthy delays in trials. Violence against women, discrimination against Roma, and child labor are problems. Reports increased of both pedophilia and trafficking in women.


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. No progress was reported in the investigation of the 1996 deaths in suspicious circumstances of two persons in custody.

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. However, credible but infrequent reports continued that police and prison guards beat and otherwise abused detainees, particularly non-Europeans. In January the Council of Europeâs Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman Treatment or Punishment (CPT) published its report on its October 1996 visit to Portugal. The CPT noted credible reports of mistreatment of detainees, including blows with batons, punches, and kicks. In late 1997, two police officers were accused of having violated sexually a female drug addict in 1994. The supervisors of the officers in question initially delayed the opening of an investigation, but in December 1997 the divisional commander in Lisbon suspended the officers and ordered an investigation. Prison conditions continue to be poor; overcrowding continues to be the main problem. The prison in Caxias, designed for 640 inmates, currently houses 908. The prison at Tires, built for 511 inmates, holds 994. Prison administration generally is regarded poorly. The level of sanitary conditions, medical care, security, and food quality remains poor. The Government permits prison visits by human rights monitors. Human rights organizations reported no difficulties in gaining access to inmates at detention facilities. An independent ombudsman, chosen by the Legislative Assembly, investigates complaints of mistreatment by police and prison authorities. The police Inspector General conducts internal investigations in cases of alleged mistreatment. Police officers receive training in human rights and proper investigative procedure. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOâs) have been critical of the slow pace of police investigations in general and internal investigations by the police in particular.

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. A person 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 last 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 charged formally. If a 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 is illegal and is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is independent and impartial. 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 Supreme Court of Administration, which deals with administrative and tax disputes, and which is supported by lower administrative courts. An audit court is in the Ministry of Finance. All trials are public except those that 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. The judicial system provides citizens with a fair legal process. However, it has been much criticized for a large backlog of pending trials resulting from inefficient functioning of the courts. Frequent criticism of this backlog nonetheless did not result in any specific actions by the Government during the year. The extremely slow pace of the judicial system was cited as contributing to a violation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights in a report from the European Court for Human Rights. The European Court also criticized Portugal for its handling of the Juan Carlos Daud case, in which an Argentine citizen was found not to have received adequate legal representation. There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The Constitution forbids such practices, and the Government respects these provisions in practice. Violations are subject to effective legal sanction.

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. In July libel laws were relaxed. Previously, journalists who were sued for defamation of character related to a criminal case had to wait for the criminal case to be concluded before a libel trial could be held. This meant that if the defendant in the criminal case was found not guilty (or benefited from an amnesty), the journalist could then be prosecuted for what he or she had written earlier while the trial was going on. Under the new Penal Code any such libel case would be settled before the criminal case was concluded. The Government respects 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 these rights in practice. Although the overwhelming majority of citizens are Roman Catholic, other religious communities practice their faiths freely.

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 United Nations 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 persons having a valid claim to refugee status. However, the Government almost never rules that an asylum seeker has a "valid" claim. A new law attempts to distinguish among political, humanitarian, and temporary refugees, but the Government continues to maintain that the majority are economic refugees using Portugal as a gateway to the other European Union "Schengen" Countries. In mid-1998 the Government repatriated 120 Moldovan refugees by air. This was the largest mass expulsion since the 1980âs.

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

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. Portugal is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy. In December 1997 the National Election Commission (CNE) dropped charges of favoritism in local elections against the Prime Minister that were lodged jointly by opposition parties. The opposition then attacked the CNE for subservience to the Government and for lacking objectivity. Concern also arose about registrars of voters, especially in less-populated areas. One registrar listed approximately 86,000 electors over the age of 90, including several over the age of 100. This led to extensive press coverage and a widespread review that increased the accuracy of the register. Women and minorities have full political rights and participate fully in political life: women head the Ministries of Health and of Environment. There are 34 female Members of Parliament. Proposals to require a female quota on political party lists are the subject of public debate. Race is rarely an issue in politics; persons of minority origin have achieved prominence in politics.

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

A number of local and international groups operate freely, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally are cooperative, 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, origin, religion, political or ideological convictions, education, economic situation, or social condition, and the Government enforces these prohibitions.


Domestic and other violence against women is reportedly a common but hidden problem for which few seek legal recourse. A 1995 survey of 1,000 women (latest statistics available) reported that 254 had experienced some form of sexual assault during their lives. The law provides for criminal penalties in cases of violence by a spouse, and the judicial system shows no apparent reluctance to prosecute suspects accused of abusing women. Changes to the Penal Code in September granted prosecutors the ability to file charges independent of the victim when prosecution is judged "in the victimâs interest." However, traditional societal attitudes discourage many battered women from recourse to the judicial system. In November the Government inaugurated a toll-free hot line for victims of domestic violence. In 1998 the Government began a series of new and expanded programs dealing with women's issues. Through its Commission for Equality and the Rights of Women, a series of high-quality books and pamphlets on womenâs issues were distributed in both cities and rural areas. The police began to receive special domestic violence training (including a guidebook and video) through a successful pilot program. The Government made a commitment to increase the percentage of women in the police (a figure currently at less than 1 percent), but progress has been slow. Trafficking in women continues to be an issue of concern. International trafficking rings take Portuguese women abroad, often to Spain, and bring foreign women to Portugal. The Portuguese women involved tend to be from poorer areas of the country and are often, but not always, drug users. Women from Brazil and from Lusophone Africa also are involved, as are women from non-Lusophone countries such as Senegal. Under the Penal Code, trafficking in women is punishable by 2 to 8 years in prison. Prostitution is linked closely to other types of organized crime, especially international narcotics trafficking. Specific legislation prohibits forced prostitution and trafficking in human beings. The Nest, an NGO, operates economic and social recovery programs for prostitutes. The Civil Code provides for full legal equality for women. Sexual harassment, a problem that continues to gain 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 the legal protection available. The Commission on Equality in the Workplace and in Employment, made up of representatives of the government, employers' organizations, and labor unions, is empowered to examine, but not adjudicate, complaints of sexual harassment but receives few. It does review numerous complaints of discrimination by employers against pregnant workers and new mothers, who are protected by law. Women increasingly are represented in university student bodies, business, science, and the professions. A gap remains between male and female salaries. The majority of university degrees are earned by women.


A 9-year period of education is compulsory. A study by the European Commission indicated that only 50 percent of children receive preschool education. To counter this problem, the Ministry of Education instituted a pilot project on early childhood education in the Algarve region in 1997. This program proved successful. More teachers were hired, new schools were constructed in remote areas, and the law now mandates preschool as a prerequisite to entry into the first grade. In 1998 the student population stood at 1,816,000. The number of preschoolers has increased and currently stands at 206,000. In view of this trend, more resources and attention have been focused on the preschool population. The National Children's Rights Commission is charged with implementing the principles of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Commission operates under the aegis of the High Commissioner for the Promotion of Equality and of the Family and includes representatives from the Ministries of Justice, Health, Education, and Solidarity, as well as from leading NGOâs. The quasi-independent Institute for the Support of Children organized a network of 48 NGOâs dedicated to helping at-risk youth. The University of Minho's Institute for the Study of Children is a research center dedicated solely to the study of children's issues. There is no societal pattern of abuse of children, although child labor remains a problem (see Section 6.d.). Pedophilia continues to be a problem of concern. A pedophile ring was uncovered in Madeira in the fall of 1997. The ring involved Madeiran children and may have involved children from elsewhere in Europe. In addition to Madeiran adults, Belgian and Dutch adults were involved. In 1998 a Belgian parliamentarian made a fact-finding trip to the islands, as the case continued to expand. The Government appointed a special prosecutor (a former Minister of Justice) to investigate. As the case received greater publicity, more families came forward. In September Parliament passed a new law that enlarged the definition of pedophilia to include the consumers of child pornography as well as the producers. Opposition parties in Madeira and affiliated parties in metropolitan Portugal have attacked the Government for moving too slowly with the investigation. Other cases outside of Madeira have been reported.

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 generally is complied with. However, no such legislation covers private businesses or other facilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The principal minority groups are immigrants, legal and illegal, from Portugalâs former African colonies. There is also a resident Romani population, which is the subject of some discrimination. The law permits victims and antiracism associations to participate in race-related criminal trials by lodging criminal complaints, retaining their own lawyers, and calling witnesses. The Council of Europe commented favorably on the countryâs antidiscrimination and antiracism laws. Although the Council noted isolated difficulties with the Roma, African, and Afro- Portuguese populations, the populace generally is tolerant.

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 by the Constitution 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 associated closely with political parties. There are no restrictions on the ability of unions to join federations or of federations to affiliate 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 is practiced extensively in the public and private sectors. Collective bargaining disputes rarely lead to prolonged strikes. 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 rarely has invoked this power, in part because most strikes are limited to 1 to 3 days, but the law was invoked in one transport strike in 1998. The law requires a "minimum level of service" to be provided during strikes in essential sectors, but this requirement has been applied infrequently. 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. The General Directorate of Labor promptly examines complaints. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced labor, including by children, is prohibited and does not occur.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum working age is 16 years. There are instances of child labor, but the overall incidence is small and is concentrated geographically and sectorally. The greatest problems are reported in Braga, Porto, and Aveiro and tend to occur in the clothing, footwear, construction, and hotel industries. The Government prohibits forced and bonded child labor and enforces this prohibition effectively (see Section 6.c.). The Government has worked actively to eliminate child labor and created a multiagency body, the National Commission to Combat Child Labor (CNCTI) in 1996 to coordinate those efforts. In 1997 the CNTCI expanded its efforts by enhancing cooperation with NGO's, establishing regional commissions and local intervention teams, and expanding its public education campaign. The Ministry of Education also has increased its budget allocated to alternative education plans for students in danger of dropping out of school. As a result of these government efforts and a move towards a higher technology industrial base (with a corresponding need for higher skilled labor), the number of child labor cases detected by inspectors fell from 341 to 167 over the last 4 years. Additional reductions may require fundamental social changes. Government officials are concerned that child labor continues in the home, where inspections are prohibited without a search warrant. Also, child labor among migrant agricultural workers appears to be facilitated by parents who are paid for every box of vegetables picked. These conditions make it difficult to root out child labor through increased enforcement alone; the authorities believe that public education measures also are needed over the longer term.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wage legislation covers full-time workers as well as rural workers and domestic employees ages 18 years and over. For 1998 the monthly minimum wage was about $336 (Esc 58,900) and generally was enforced. Along with widespread rent controls, basic food and utility subsidies, and phased implementation of an assured minimum income, the minimum wage affords a basic standard of living for a worker and family. According to the latest figures available (October 1997), the average monthly wage was $777 (Esc 136,300). With respect to income distribution, average wages ranged from a high of $2,316 (Esc 405,300) per month for managers to $587 (Esc 102,700) per month for manual laborers. Only 9.2 percent of the work force received the minimum wage. Employees generally receive 14 months' pay for 11 months' work: the extra 3 monthsâ pay are for a Christmas bonus, a vacation subsidy, and 22 days of annual leave. The maximum legal workday is 8 hours, and the maximum workweek is 40 hours. For public sector employees, the maximum workweek is 39 hours, with a reduction to 35 hours to be phased in by 1999. There is a maximum of 2 hours of paid overtime per day and 200 hours of overtime per year, with a minimum of 12 hours between workdays. The Ministry of Employment and Social Security monitors compliance through its regional inspectors. Employers legally are 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 in harmony with European Union standards, and the General Labor Inspectorate is responsible for their enforcement, but the Inspectorate lacks sufficient funds and inspectors to combat the problem of work accidents effectively. A relatively large proportion of accidents occurs 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.

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