Brazil Senate Wants to Charge Bolsonaro With Crimes Against Humanity Over COVID Response

By Neil Campbell | October 20, 2021
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
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Jair Bolsonaro Crimes Against Humanity COVID-19 Response Senate Committee
A Senate Committee report condemning President Jair Bolsonaro’s response to COVID-19 during a session at the CPI on October 20, 2021 in Brasilia, Brazil. The Committee, composed of a majority of the President’s political opponents, seeks to charge Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity for his advocacy of hydroxychloroquine and resistance to Chinese Communist Party “Wuhan model”-style lockdowns. (Image: Andressa Anholete/Getty Images)

A report based on an investigation issued by a group of Brazilian Senators on Oct. 20 recommends charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity for his handling of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. 

CNN Brasil said it “received draft excerpts” from a leaked copy of the 1,200 page document, reportedly based on six months of investigation by an 11-member Senate Committee on Oct. 19. The outlet said the documents “accuse[s] Bolsonaro and other government officials of allowing the lethal coronavirus to spread through the population in hopes of achieving herd immunity.”

The portion CNN reviewed called the Bolsonaro administration’s approach to the pandemic “reckless,” which created “a concrete risk of mass infection” because of an alleged “intention to immunize the population through natural contamination.”

Charges were also called for against “69 other people, including three of Bolsonaro’s sons and numerous current and former government officials.”

The New York Times characterised Bolsonaro’s pandemic response in the following way: “From the outset of the pandemic, Mr. Bolsonaro has gone out of his way to minimize the threat of the virus. As countries around the world locked down, and his own people began filling hospitals, he encouraged mass gatherings and discouraged masks. An avowed vaccine skeptic, he lashed out at any who dared criticize him as irresponsible.”

NYT also said, the administration “caused a monthslong delay in the distribution of vaccines in Brazil by ignoring more than 100 emails from Pfizer.” 

“Instead, his government opted to overpay for an unapproved vaccine from India, the report said, a deal that was later canceled over suspicions of graft.”

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A summary of the document was delivered officially to the Senate on Oct. 20 according to Associated Press, noting it called for additional charges of “charlatanism,” inciting crime, and misuse of public funds against the President and his allies. 

Senators characterized Bolsonaro advocating for the use of hydroxychloroquine in the early part of the pandemic as “practically the only government policy to fight the pandemic.”

Verbiage such as, “Jair Bolsonaro strongly collaborated for COVID-19′s spread in Brazilian territory and, as such, showed himself to be the main person responsible for the errors committed by the federal government during the pandemic” was utilized in the report. 

The recommendation will be referred to the federal Prosecutor General’s office, managed by one of the President’s allies, who will then decide whether to charge Bolsonaro and others.

AP remarked that “the report was far more likely to hamper Bolsonaro’s push for reelection in 2022 than make him a defendant in a courtroom.”

The 11-member Senate Committee who prepared the report can make changes to the document until Oct. 26 when a formal vote to endorse it occurs. 

According to Google, Brazil ranks third in the world behind the United States and India in the number of total positive PCR tests since the pandemic began at 21.7 million. It ranks second in deaths at 604,000. 

The country, home to more than 212 million people, has shown a sharp decline in new cases. Brazil’s 7-day moving average peaked at about 77,000 in June, trending downward to less than 11,000 as of time of writing. 

By comparison, the U.S. peaked its 7-day average at more than 175,000 new positive PCR tests per day in September, declining to 79,000 today. India fell from more than 390,000 per day in May to 15,000 today.

According to Google, pulling statistics from Our World in Data, India has double injected only 20.8 percent of its population with a COVID-19 vaccine, the United States 57.5 percent, and Brazil 50.4 percent.

A Sept. 30 study by a Harvard researcher in the European Journal of Epidemiology found there was no notable relationship in data examined across 68 countries and almost 3,000 U.S. counties between vaccine acceptance statistics and new case count.

An “independent political analyst in Brasília” told NYT, “I didn’t see any concrete element that was strong enough to accuse the president of genocide or homicide” in the report, noting that seven of the eleven members of the Senate Committee responsible for the report were Bolsonaro’s political rivals.

If Bolsonaro is charged, he will be suspended from office for six months as the country’s Supreme Court hears the case.