Dialogue with the Committee against Torture on the 7th periodic report of Portugal on the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

 

Geneva, 19 November 2019

Statement by the Heads of the Portuguese Delegation

Ambassador Rui Macieira

Director General Rómulo Mateus

Mr. Chairperson,

Permita-me que cumprimente e dirija uma palavra de agradecimento a todos os membros do Comité e, em particular, aos membros relatores para Portugal, Senhor Claude Heller e Senho Bakhtiyar Tuzmukhamedov.

The Portuguese Delegation is honoured to be here for the dialogue with the Committee against Torture on its seventh periodic report on the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

We are sure that this session, which coincides with the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the ratification of the Convention, will once again translate into a fruitful and constructive dialogue. As it was the case with the presentation of previous reports, this will contribute to further enhance the human rights situation in Portugal.

Mr. Chairperson,

I would like to take the chance to congratulate the Committee for its work promoting and protecting Human Rights. Portugal remains a staunch supporter of multilateralism and of the central role of the UN in promoting and protecting Human Rights.

I would also like to note with satisfaction the involvement and the contribution of the Provedor de Justiça, our National Institution for Human Rights according with the Principles of Paris, and our National Preventive Mechanism according to the Optional Protocol to the Convention.

We also welcome the involvement of NGOs and the civil society – their written contributions are an important added value for this exercise. Before being finalized, the report we are discussing was debated with the civil society. The same practice is followed in all other Human Rights reports presented by Portugal.

Mr. Chairperson,

This report was prepared within the Portuguese National Human Rights Committee, our National Mechanism for Implementation, Report and Follow-up (NMIRF). This mechanism was established in April 2010 following a commitment expressed during our first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2009.

Our National Human Rights Committee brings together Government representatives and benefits from the participation of the Provedor de Justiça (Ombudsman) and the Office of the Prosecutor General and aims to promote a greater involvement of NGO’s in the UN human rights reporting process.

Portugal is pleased to have all its reporting obligations with the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies up to date.

We also welcome the fact that this dialogue takes place under the simplified reporting procedure and we hope that this model becomes the rule.

Mr. Chairperson,

Distinguished Rapporteurs and Committee members,

Portugal is fully committed to the protection, promotion and fulfilment of all human rights for all. Our longstanding commitment to combat torture and all forms of inhuman and degrading treatment finds no better example than the fact that Portugal abolished of the death penalty more than 150 years ago, in law and in practice, putting an end to what, in our view, is the worst form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Since 1867 the death penalty has been formally abolished in Portugal for all common crimes.

As a State Party to the UN Convention against Torture since 1989, my country has been devoting great attention to the fulfillment of its obligations under this instrument, as part of our comprehensive efforts to enhance human rights record in all areas. We share the view that torture is always wrong and that the prohibition against torture is absolute. Human dignity is of paramount importance and human rights violations should not happen, not even under the auspices of fighting terrorism threats.

The dialogue on our fifth and sixth reports, which took place six years ago, proved to be a successful opportunity to measure progress achieved and to highlight remaining challenges. We welcomed the positive spirit that presided to that occasion, and we have since been committed to implementing its recommendations.

Mr. Chairperson,

Allow me to hand over the floor to the Co-Chair of the Portuguese Delegation, Mr. Rómulo Mateus, Director-General for Reinsertion and Prison Services.

Mr. Chairperson,

It is a great privilege to participate on this Committee’ session to discuss the progress made by Portugal concerning the 7th report on the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Today I am joined here by representatives of the following Ministries: Internal Affairs; Justice; Labour, Solidarity and Social Security; Health; representative from the Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality, and of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Mission in Geneva.

Portugal is deeply committed to eliminate all forms of torture and cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment and to protect and promote Human Rights as a whole. This broad commitment is enshrined in the Portuguese Constitution and constitutes a priority for all of us. Allow me to quote the first article of the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic: “Portugal is a sovereign Republic, based on the dignity of the human person and the will of the people and committed to building a free, just and solidary society”. This demonstrates that the foundations of the Portuguese Republic are deeply bonded to the dignity of the human person.

45 years ago, a democratic regime was reestablished in Portugal. Since then, there was a constant effort to ensure the protection of those who are the most vulnerable. It has been 30 years since Portugal acceded to the United Nations Convention against Torture. Besides this Convention, Portugal, has ratified other human rights core treaties, including the most recent one, the Convention for the protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

 

Allow me, to give a very recent example of Portugal’s drive to create modern legislation regarding the respect for human dignity: the Statute of the Accompanied Adult. This legal framework entered into force this year and it privileges the autonomy of the person and a model of follow-up replacing the former legal framework of interdiction and partial interdiction in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

 

Mr. President, I would like to touch upon some issues that arose more interest as a result of our report. I will adress the issues by clusters:

Concerning domestic violence:

We have taken determined steps in order to deal and fight Domestic and Gender based Violence. Public campaigns to raise awareness on domestic violence have been intensified.

Police officers are instructed to take victim protection measures as soon as possible, never exceeding 72 hours; once the case is signaled, the court imposes coercive measures within 48 hours that can range from removal from the aggressor's home, to the imposition of Electronic Monitoring. Finally, the conviction may be associated with an accessory penalty of prohibition of contacts, with Electronic monitoring (740 cases in 2018);

 

The National Strategy for Equality and Non-Discrimination against Women includes an Action Plan aims specifically to prevent and combat Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (2018-2021). It includes several mechanisms related to Justice, Health, Equality, Education, Internal Administration, etc. such as:

  • A National free Emergency Line, operating 24/7, to guarantee the immediate accommodation for victims in danger, who are rescued to shelters by an official vehicle (531 people in September 2019);
  • An online system to submit complaints;
  • Information disseminated widely to the victims, including through the Internet;
  • Victim Support Offices;
  • Exemption of legal costs to the victims, and legal support.
  • A Domestic Violence Reviewing Analysis Team. This team is one of only 6 in the world, working on an inter-ministerial perspective, produces reports on each case and recommendations to every government department involved.

Furthermore since 2014, a Program for Domestic Violence Aggressors has been in place and was attended by 2,400 aggressors.

We are also concerned with the impacts of the domestic violence on children. Next January, 4 Specialized Integrated Domestic Violence Departments within the Portuguese judicial system will be put into place, covering the whole country, operating with prosecutors specialized in criminal law and minors and family matters, in order to ensure that the children who are victims of this phenomenon enjoy a consistent and articulated protection.

The results of this policy are visible on the number of inmates due to the crime of domestic violence: 388 people in 2017, 820 people in December, 2018 and 973 people in September 2019 (215 of which in pre-trial detention).

Mr Chairperson,

Finally, we take very seriously the phenomenon of Domestic Violence and its diverse dimensions. Female Genital Mutilation has been criminalized and several prevention and information actions were put in place, also with the cooperation from local religious leaders. Harassment and forced marriage have been criminalized. As for the crimes of rape, sexual harassment and sexual coercion, the criminal law has been amended, excluding the use of violence or serious threat as a requirement to criminalize an act. Such amendments were made in compliance with the Istanbul Convention.

Concerning Children and Youngsters:

 

The National Prevention Mechanism made recently a visit to a Juvenile Detention Center, which resulted in several recommendations on the communication model between the youngsters admitted there and their families. The follow-up visit confirmed the recommendations were superseded by the measures taken such as more contacts between the youngsters and their families via Skype, mobile phones and the internet. This is the model to be applied to all Juvenile detention Centers, in a context of a greater openness.

Also, we have amended rules that were considered too severe for the youngsters. Therefore, we have put an end to the strip-search of youngsters, haircutting and removal of personal clothes upon entering the Juvenile Detention Center, while a recently created group of experts is conducting a thorough review of the rules governing the detention of youngsters.

We could not close this topic without referring one of the most successfully preventive community policing projects, ongoing on Portugal since the 80’s, the Safety School Program. Aiming to promote citizenship and human rights principles, Law Enforcement Agencies dedicate tremendous effort on group sessions with children. Annually Law Enforcement Agencies promote 17.000 generic group sessions to promote citizenship and, specifically, 8.850 group sessions about Human Rights, that reach approximately 980.000 children.

Concerning the Prison System and Detention:

Following the rules of the Convention, we have determined the end of weekend detention and the adoption of an electronic monitoring system, which is praised worldwide. This measure alone, allowed the removal of approximately 2000 people from the prison system and ensured 24/7 monitoring and surveillance of those people.

Both these changes were a powerful contribution towards decreasing the total number of inmates of overcrowded prisons and limiting the number of pre-trial prisoners to (around) 17% of the total, which is well below the European average (26%, SPACE, 2018).

 

Moreover, Portuguese law allows that imprisonment sentences not exceeding 2 years are served through electronic monitoring under house arrest.

In addition, we will move forward on modernizing the communication system of inmates with relatives and friends, by installing telephones in the cells. The current system is obsolete – consisting of one telephone call per day, for 5 minutes. This measure will reduce the isolation of inmates and helps prevent suicide. Due to the Integrated Program for Suicide Prevention, inmates’ suicide rate in Portugal has been dropping for years, being below the European average (8 per year in Portugal, 9 European average - Space Statistics).

 

We are concerned about the info exclusion of inmates in a changing digital world, so we will soon start a secure internet program that will cover all prisons. I would like to confirm that we were able to ensure that 47% of inmates found a job within prisons, out of which 27% are working for external entities. 

In compliance with the Convention, a recommendation to the entire prison system was recently issued in order to implement, henceforth, the paradigm of the Mandela rules regarding the duration of the disciplinary cell. According to the recommendation, the duration of this measure shall not go beyond 15 consecutive days, despite the (still) legal limit of 21 days. These inmates are also entitled to daily medical monitoring and two hours a day in the open air.

Allow me to dedicate some words to the National System of Electronic Monitoring. According to calculations, the success rate of the use of this system was calculated at 98.6%. Between January and September 2019, 1 700 000 Euros were spent on this programme . The use of electronic vigilance has increased 34% between 2018 and 2019, from which 12% correspond to imprisonment sentences under house arrest. Therefore, the National System of Electronic Monitoring reflects a country which is focused on preventing crime and balancing the need to enforce the law while attempting to avoid the stigmatization of incarceration. As far as domestic violence is concerned, the electronic monitoring system has allowed that both the aggressors and victims of domestic violence are followed by geolocation, the safest and most modern technology available. On 31st October 2019, there were 959 court decisions concerning domestic violence related with electronic monitoring, 74% of which are urgent responses to enforcement measures imposed by courts.

The report on the multiannual strategy for the requalification and modernization of the prison system calls for the necessary reforms. Thus, there are in place advanced plans to build two new prisons for around 600 inmates each, and to close eight old and obsolete prisons, including the one in Lisbon, which was built more than 100 years ago. Meanwhile, in order to improve the infrastructures and sanitation conditions 11 300 000 Euros were spent in the last three years.

We have noted that this Committee is concerned about the compliance of the six-hour detention period allowed for the sole purpose of coercive identification of people. On this note, we inform that, by virtue of the new wording of Article 80 of the Criminal Code, these six hours in custody equals to 1 full day to be deducted from the final sentence that may be imposed, regardless of the case in which such deprivation of freedom occurred and even if the sentence is rendered in another different case. The period of 48 hours for presentation of the detainee to the judge is fully respected.

Between 2012 and 2018 the General Inspection for Home Affairs has conducted 406 unannounced inspections to police (PSP and GNR) premises. Such inspections focused on the detention conditions of those premises. The recommendations that resulted from those inspections are in line with the concerns voiced by international bodies such as CPT or CAT. Additionally, there were unannounced inspections conducted to Migration and Borders Service´ detentions centers.

In 2019, the new Statute of PSP (Public Security Police) was approved. It reinforced the respect for the rights, freedoms and guarantees of the citizens.

Concerning Mental Health and the Health System:

In this area deep changes are underway. Legal framework has been recently approved and both the Ministries of Justice and Health have taken up their joint responsibilities to host and treat the forensic patients, in specialized civil hospital institutions.

In this context, 40 beds will be made available from the 2nd of December for forensic patients, who are so far being held in the Psychiatric Clinic of Santa Cruz do Bispo. In July 2018, 12 additional beds were made available for forensic patients at a mental health institution in Lisbon, where we now have 45 beds.

Allow me to point out that Portugal has spent on health-related issues of inmates, around 5 million Euros in 2017, 9.8 million Euros in 2018 and has already exceeded the amount of 10 million Euros this year. For 2020, 786 more health professionals will be hired with an additional expenditure of almost 6 000 000 Euros. Portugal is also working on an increased cooperation and coordination between the civil health institutions and the prison health services, with special focus on the computerization of certain services and other means of evaluation at distance. This would allow the doctors from the National Health Service to observe and treat inmates and therefore avoid unnecessary trips under escort to civil health facilities. It is also fair to remind that, by law, prisoners are ipso facto beneficiaries of the National Health Services.

Portugal takes the issues related to public health in prisons very seriously. The World Health Organization mentioned on its website, in August 2018, “Portugal has introduced a new model of care for prison inmates…providing critical on-site health care to viral hepatitis and HIV patients…the country plans to diagnose and treat everyone who lives with chronic hepatitis C, eliminating this disease from prisons by 2020.”. As a result, 94% of inmates with hepatitis C undergo regular treatment while the remaining 6% (82 inmates) will soon start the medical treatment.

The World Health Organization also recognized in 2018, Portugal as an example of good practices in the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis in prison settings.

We are as well proud to draw your attention to the option followed years ago to decriminalize the use and possession of all illicit drugs. Independent evaluations conclude that the Portuguese decriminalization model, which inter alia provide harm reduction services, led to a general reduction in the cases of HIV and viral hepatitis among drug users.

 

Concerning the protection of the most vulnerable, including migrants

Portugal was one of the first countries to approve its National Plan following the adoption of the Global Compact for Migrations. The national plan intends to address the root causes for migration and to enhance the benefits of migration for the demographic sustainability and to the labor market. It is important to note that Portugal has been cooperating with the European Union on the resettlement of refugees from Greece and Italy and of migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea.

The legal framework for the entry, residence, exit and expulsion of foreign nationals from Portuguese territory was reviewed in 2017. This review further consolidates the legal framework which already prevented coercive expulsion or expulsion to any country where the person might be harassed and/or persecuted by motives that would justify that asylum was granted or where the person may suffer torture, inhumane or degrading treatment, in accordance to the rules established on the European Convention on Human Rights.

Portugal is one of the few countries that grants a key role by law to an NGO in the framework of the international protection procedure. In fact, the Portuguese Refugee Council, acting on behalf of UNHCR, gives support and legal advice to international protection applicants.  In addition, all applications for international protection should be immediately reported by the Portuguese authorities to the Portuguese Refugee Council.

Portugal is also committed to promote and protect Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We adopted, some years ago, the Social Integration Income. By the end of 2017, this mechanism was extended to inmates, with a view to support their reintegration and return to freedom and to work.

We would like also to highlight the implementation of the IV National Action Plan for the Prevention of and Fight against Trafficking in Human Beings (2018-2021) that consolidates the multidisciplinary approach as well as the continuous articulation between public institutions and civil society.

Regarding specifically the fight against forced labor and labor exploitation the Labor Code was recently adjusted in line with the relevant ILO’s Convention. Companies responsible for the posting of temporary workers are now socially liable for the workers credits and their respective social contributions. Alongside this amendment, 130 new labor inspectors will be recruited until the end of 2019. This represents a reinforcement of the mechanisms for protection of workers.

Additionally, the plan of action for the National Strategy for the Integration of Homeless People, to be concluded in 2020, counts with a budget of 131 million euros. This plan of action reinforces the dimensions of housing, institutionalizing, reception service and vocational training. 

Concerning racial and xenophobic discrimination:

Portugal is committed to eliminating all forms of discrimination on any grounds, including origin, color and nationality.

The Portuguese penal law criminalizes Discrimination and Incitement to Hatred and Violence. Penalties could range between 1 to 8 years of imprisonment in cases of participation in organized activities of discrimination or incitement to hatred; and between 6 months to 5 years in cases of practice of individual acts of the same type.

The Commission for Equality and Against Racial Discrimination, created under the Office of the High Commissioner for Migration, has been making a significant effort of information, ensuring that multiple means to file a complaint are made available (via internet, post mail, in person, on police stations, through victim support entities and protection of migrants). Such efforts led to a 93% increase of complaints (in 2018, 346 comparing to the previous year). So far, 393 complaints have been logged this year. This Commission has been working in cooperation with Portuguese Regulatory Authority for the Media to promote tolerance and eliminate stereotypes. In this context, a recommendation “to adhere to the principle of non-reference to racial and ethnic origin, color, nationality, ancestry, territory of origin and documentary status" has been issued. The impact and effectiveness of this cooperation is already reflected in concrete day-to-day situations.

Mr. Chairperson,

Portugal is fully aware of the remaining challenges in the field of the prevention of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. I want to assure this Committee of my country’s relentless commitment to continue improving the implementation of the Convention as well as to ensure the respect and promotion of the highest standards of Human Rights through effective legislative, administrative, judicial, policy or other measures. For it is our view that no State interest should be purchased at the expense of human dignity.

The Portuguese delegation remains at your disposal to clarify any questions you might have.

Thank you.

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