A PROTEST, A Claim

ASM 1948This text is a plea made by Aristides de Sousa Mendes to the Portuguese Parliament on December 10, 1945, using constitutional arguments in an effort to have his punishment reversed and his name cleared. The plea, unfortunately, was unsuccessful.

Mr. President of the National Assembly:

I, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, former Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, exercising my right to protest, guaranteed under No. 18 of article 8 of the Constitution, appeal to the National Assembly the decision of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to relieve me of my functions for having granted, against current instructions, visas to thousands of foreigners who sought shelter from the threat of the German Army, which was at that time in the process of occupying Southwest France, inasmuch as the National Assembly is charged with the enforcement of the laws of the Nation (Article 91, No.2) on the following grounds:

The Foreign Minister sent me instructions on the granting of visas, which in the first line, absolutely prohibited the issuance of such visas to Jews, without regard for their nationality.

Involved were thousands of persons of the Jewish faith, from all the countries already invaded, and who had already been persecuted in Germany and in other countries which were forced to adhere to the German forces. The claimant estimated that he ought not to obey such prohibitive instruction inasmuch as he considered it unconstitutional in virtue of Article 8, No. 3 of the Constitution which guaranteed liberty and the inviolability of individual religious beliefs. This clause would not permit the persecution of anyone for these reasons. Furthermore, no one is to answer to such inquiries or be persecuted on account of them. To obey the instruction to deny visas to Jews, it would become a necessity to infringe upon the relative clause of the Constitution, to be able to grant or deny a visa in agreement with the relative instruction.

Consequently, the claimant, not obeying the orders in question, was only resisting, under the terms of Article 8, line 18, an order which manifestly infringed upon the individual guarantees, which had not then been suspended at that time (Article 8, No. 19).

And one may not claim that inviolability of belief is not a right of foreigners because they are not residing in Portugal, the only instance in which they might claim the same rights as the Portuguese nations (Article 7). The case in point does not involve a right of a foreigner, but the duty of Portuguese officials who may not, either in Portugal or in its consulates (also Portuguese territory) make such inquiries to any individual without infringing upon the Constitution in order to deny any of their services. This in effect would be tantamount to odious religious persecution. For, ultimately it was a matter of right to asylum which any civilized country has always recognized and respected in occasion of war or public calamity.

The claimant entreats the Assembly in its high responsibility of enforcing the Constitution, to reverse the punishment imposed upon him for his disobedience of the instructions mentioned. The responsibility for the issuance of the mentioned orders to be exacted and those officials are to account for having infringed upon the Constitution and the established regime (Article 115, No. 2). The claimant further entreats the Assembly to grant material and moral reparations for the damages caused by the disciplinary action instituted by the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Article 18).

The claimant cannot bear the evident and absurd injustice he has suffered and solicits that it be brought to a swift end, inasmuch as the Administration has been lauded in Portugal and abroad for an act which, manifestly, the government opposed, and for which the credit is due to the country and people whose altruistic and humanitarian sentiments were praised, and justly so, for an incident created by the disobedience of the claimant.

In short, the attitude of the Portuguese government was unconstitutional, anti-neutral, and contrary to all humane sentiments—and consequently against the Portuguese Nation.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes