The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly

Portugal is a state party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:

The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Portugal is also a state party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the state has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.

At regional level, Portugal is a state party to the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. Article 11 governs freedom of assembly and association:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.

The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly

Constitutional Provisions

Article 45 of the 1976 Constitution of Portugal (as amended) governs the right of assembly:

1. Citizens shall possess the right to meet peacefully and without arms, even in places that are open to the public, without the need for any authorisation.

2. The right of every citizen to demonstrate shall be recognised.

National Legislation

Portugal does not have dedicated national legislation governing assemblies.

The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies

The Use of Force

International Legal Rules

Under international law, the duty on the state and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:

In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.

All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.

National Legislation

Article 12 of the 2007 Law on the Public Security Police provides that police officers may use, in the exercise of their duties, legally prescribed police measures according to the Constitution and the internal security law, but can not use force "beyond what is strictly necessary".

The Use of Firearms

International Legal Rules

According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life. 

National Legislation

Decree-Law No. 457 of 1999 governs the use of firearms by the police. Article 2 addresses the principles of necessity and proportionality, providing that: 

1 - The use of firearms is only allowed in case of absolute necessity, as an extreme measure, when other less dangerous means prove ineffective.

2 - In such a case, the officer shall endeavor to minimize injuries and and preserve human life.

One of the explicitly permissible scenarios is "where the maintenance of public order so requires".

These provisions are more permissive than international law allows.

State Compliance with its Legal Obligations

Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies

Portugal has not come before the Human Rights Committee in recent years. Its 2012 Concluding Observations on Portugal did not address the right of peaceful assembly.

Regional Jurisprudence

Portugal has not been found in violation of the right of peaceful assembly by the European Court of Human Rights

Civil Society

According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Portugal:

Freedom of assembly is upheld by the authorities. Protests organized during 2018 addressed problems including racism, gentrification, and the rising cost of housing.

Downloads

1976 Constitution of Portugal (as amended) (English translation) - Download (561 KB)
2007 Law on the Public Security Police (Portuguese original) - Download (159 KB)
1999 Decree Law on Firearms - Download (75 KB)