In a memorandum published today, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, called on the authorities of Portugal to address more resolutely the increasing level of racism in the country, as well as to take additional steps to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence.
The Commissioner is concerned about the rise of racially motivated hate crimes and hate speech targeting especially Roma, people of African descent and persons perceived as foreigners in Portugal. She recommends implementing a comprehensive action plan against racism and discrimination, urges the authorities to firmly and publicly condemn all instances of hate speech, and politicians to refrain from using or tolerating racist rhetoric.
Welcoming the substantial steps taken to improve the legal and institutional framework for tackling discrimination, the Commissioner invites the Portuguese authorities to pursue their efforts and ensure that civil, administrative and criminal legislation fully complies with international standards.
She also recommends that the police and prosecution services adopt a wider understanding of what constitutes a racist offence and carry out prompt, rigorous and impartial investigations into all incidents with racial overtones.
Further efforts are also necessary to tackle racist bias against people of African descent inherited from the colonial past and historical slave trade. “It is important to shed light on the historically repressive structures of colonialism, ingrained racist biases and their present-day ramifications”, said the Commissioner. School curricula are a particularly useful tool to achieve this goal.
Noting with appreciation the steps taken to combat discrimination against Roma, the Commissioner recommends enhancing such efforts, especially to tackle antigypsyism, which remains pervasive in Portuguese society and present in the public discourse of some politicians.
Racism in the police also remains an issue of deep concern. “The Portuguese authorities should apply a policy of zero tolerance towards any manifestation of racism in the police”, said the Commissioner. She also recommends improving human rights training for police officers and the recruitment procedures and selection criteria to promote access of persons belonging to minority groups to the police and their representation at all levels of management.
The Commissioner also recommends establishing a fully independent police complaints mechanism to investigate all complaints of ill-treatment by the police.
The Commissioner welcomes the longstanding commitment of the Portuguese authorities to eliminating domestic violence, their resolute action to overcome deeply rooted patriarchal attitudes and gender-based stereotypes and their work towards gender equality in all areas of life.
Levels of violence against women remain nonetheless alarmingly high in Portugal. The authorities should therefore take additional steps to challenge biased mindsets and to raise further awareness in society that violence against women, including domestic violence, is a serious human rights violation and therefore a crime, for which perpetrators must be held accountable.
She urges the authorities to take measures to ensure that domestic violence and sexual offences, including rape, are adequately investigated and prosecuted, and that sentencing is commensurate with the gravity of offences and sufficiently dissuasive.
The Commissioner invites the authorities to continue improving training for members of the law enforcement agencies, the judiciary and, more widely, those providing services to women victims of violence. She welcomes recent steps taken to ensure that children who witness domestic violence are considered primarily as victims and receive adequate protection.
Lastly, the Commissioner recommends that the authorities further amend the definition of rape in the Criminal Code and ensure that it is entirely based on the absence of the free consent of the victim.