Brazil's Bolsonaro May Face ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ Charge Over COVID

More than 600,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Brazil since the pandemic began.
October 20, 2021, 4:20pm
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro could face being charged with "crimes against humanity" for his role in handling the coronavirus pandemic.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro could face being charged with "crimes against humanity" for his role in handling the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by EVARISTO SA/AFP via Getty Images)

A panel of Brazilian lawmakers recommended Wednesday that President Jair Bolsonaro be charged with “crimes against humanity” due to his government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Brazil has been one of the world’s most hard hit countries with over 600,000 dead since the pandemic began.

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After a six-month probe of Bolsonaro’s response that included televised hearings, a Senate commission presented its findings to legislators. The official report accused the president of acting with “obvious disregard” for the lives of Brazilian citizens and working against scientific evidence.

“With this behavior, the government, which had a legal duty to act, agreed with the death of millions of Brazilians,” said an excerpt of the document presented by Senator Renan Calheiros, according to Bloomberg. “Bolsonaro’s administration unquestionably undermined public health.”

The report also accused Bolsonaro of delaying the purchase of vaccines and spreading fake news about the coronavirus.

The senators said that Bolsonaro’s actions were based on his “unfounded belief in the idea of herd immunity through natural infection and the existence of early forms of treatment,” the Guardian reported

Senators will vote on the report next week and then can suggest charges to the country's Attorney General Augusto Aras. Only Aras can decide whether to charge Bolsonaro or not, and he was appointed by the president.

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Along with Bolsonaro, the panel also intends to recommend an additional 67 indictments against companies and a wide range of people including doctors, current and former ministers, as well as three of the president's sons.

Bolsonaro has been one of the most world’s most outspoken leaders in denying the gravity of the pandemic. He has eschewed mask use, promoted unproven remedies like the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and the anti-parasite drug ivermectin, and he has refused to be vaccinated. Towards the beginning of the pandemic he tried to restart the country’s professional soccer leagues because players “have a small chance of dying.” He caught the coronavirus in July 2020 and also downplayed the symptoms after his recovery. 

A few months later he urged Brazilians “to stop being a country of sissies [maricas]” and called the coronavirus pandemic “overblown.”

“We are all going to die one day. Everyone here is going to die. There is no use in running away from that, running away from reality,” he told a group of tourism executives on November 10.

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The Senate report was expected to suggest additional charges against Bolsonaro, including murder by omission, but they were dropped shortly before the release after backlash from senators. They reportedly believed that the panel was overreaching with homicide charges.

“This indictment, for all the world, will say I’m a murderer,” Bolsonaro told a group of supporters, Bloomberg reported.

But even as Bolsonaro has consistently downplayed the pandemic, Brazil’s vaccination campaign has moved ahead. Roughly 75 percent of the country's population has received one dose of the coronavirus vaccine and cases and deaths have dropped significantly.

Despite plummeting poll numbers, Bolsonaro is expected to run for re-election in October 2022.