Portugal must face its colonial past, says Council of Europe

The Council of Europe, the bloc’s main human rights group, said on Wednesday (24) that Portugal must do more to deal with its colonial past and its role in the slave trade, to fight against racism and discrimination.

The report comes at a time of intensified debate over the country’s colonial legacy – earlier this month, the withdrawal of the coats of arms of Portugal’s former colonies from the so-called Praça do Império, planned by Lisbon City Hall, generated a lively discussion and divided Portuguese.

Now, the country is also preparing to inaugurate its first memorial to the victims of slavery, in Lisbon. The monument – a row of palm trees painted in black – was designed by Angolan artist Kiluanji Kia Henda, funded by the House and will be at the center of the capital.

The text, signed by the Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, expresses her concern at the increase in the number of crimes motivated by racial hatred, in particular against Roma, Afro-descendants and foreigners in the country.

From the 15th to the 19th century, Portuguese ships transported an estimated 6 million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic, more than any other nation.

The colonial era, which saw countries like Angola, Mozambique, Brazil, Cape Verde and East Timor under Portuguese rule, is often cited as a source of pride.

Currently, however, the way slavery is generally approached in schools has been called into question.

“More efforts are needed for Portugal to recognize past human rights violations to tackle racist prejudices against people of African descent, inherited from a colonial past and the slave trade,” said said the Council of Europe in its report.

In 2020, complaints of racial discrimination increased by 50% nationwide, reaching 655 complaints, but according to Equality Secretary Rosa Monteiro the number is likely much lower than the actual rate of racist incidents.

“Our historical account is like a very serious injury that was not treated properly. And to heal it, we have to talk about what happened,” Monteiro told Reuters news agency, adding that the government was preparing a national combat plan. racism.

Growing episodes of racism include a march with references to the racist Ku Klux Klan movement, with mask and torches, in front of the headquarters of the NGO SOS Racismo, in Lisbon, organized by Resistência Nacional, a nationalist far-right group . And it is this same group that sent death threat emails to NGO leaders and three deputies from left-wing parties.

Portugal plans to carry out its first census on ethnic origin this year. According to border service data, in 2019, around 103,000 Africans officially resided in the country. Brazilians lead the ranking of the largest immigrant community, with 151,000 people.

The Council of Europe has also expressed concern about the growth of the populist right in the country, highlighting the Chega party, led by MP André Ventura.

Supporting proposals such as the chemical castration of pedophiles and the death penalty, in addition to defending that there is no racism in Portugal, Chega won not only the anti-system vote, but also disgruntled voters in the rest of the right in the country.

Ventura also made public comments against Mamadou Ba, one of the country’s main anti-racist activists, who was the subject of a petition last month calling for his deportation after he said the death of a colonial leader was not to be commemorated. .

“We are not trying to rewrite history, we are saying that the story we tell today is not enough,” Ba said during a protest on Sunday (22). “We want a story that represents all Portuguese.”

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