Brazil Senate Recommends Bolsonaro Be Charged With Crime Against Humanity for COVID Actions

Brazil's Senate recommended Wednesday that President Jair Bolsonaro face charges for crime against humanity for how he dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Associated Press reported. Brazil's COVID death toll of more than 600,000 is the second-highest in the world, and many have decried the president's attempt to downplay the severity of the virus among other aspects of his response.

The report from Senate Renan Calheiros is the outcome of six months of investigative work from the committee. It recommends that Bolsonaro be indicted on nine charges, including crime against humanity, charlatanism and inciting crime, according to two committee members who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Critics have rebuked the president's disregard for international health guidelines on masking and restrictions aimed at curtailing COVID-19's spread, according to the AP. He also delayed Brazil's procurement of vaccines while encouraging people to use unproven treatments for the virus.

Bolsonaro has denied any wrongdoing and denounced the investigation into the government's handling of the pandemic as a political move to undermine him, the AP reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Charges to Be Recommended Against Bolsonaro
Brazil’s Senate will recommend Wednesday that President Jair Bolsonaro face charges for crimes against humanity for how he dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. Bolsonaro waits for the arrival of Colombia's President Ivan Duque to Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, October 19. Eraldo Peres/AP Photo

The report can still be modified before the committee vote on October 26, and the decision on whether to file most of the charges would be up to Brazil's prosecutor-general, who was appointed by the president.

Analysts say it's unclear if he would act.

Recommended charges also include misuse of public funds and "prevarication," which entails delaying or refraining from action required as part of a public official's duty for reasons of personal interest.

Anger over the president's response prompted creation of the Senate committee in April, which has investigated allegations that Bolsonaro's management of the pandemic caused many of Brazil's more than 600,000 deaths from the disease.

Calheiros, who drafted the report, presented its final version Wednesday to the 11-person committee. An earlier draft had nearly 1,200 pages.

The document has to be approved by the committee before being sent to the office of the prosecutor-general, who would decide whether to carry forward the investigation and eventually pursue charges. In Brazil, members of congressional committees can investigate, but don't have the power to indict.

Regardless of whether the prosecutor-general acts, the report's allegations are expected to fuel criticism of the far-right leader, whose approval ratings have slumped ahead of his 2022 reelection campaign.

"The major impact of the investigation is political, because it generated tons of news that certainly will be used by campaign strategists next year," said Thiago de Aragão, director of strategy at political consultancy Arko Advice.

Even during the worst throes of the pandemic, Bolsonaro steadfastly restrictions on activity, claiming the poor would suffer worse hardship if the economy ground to a halt. He continues to argue that the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine is effective in treating COVID-19, though broad, major studies have found it to be ineffective and potentially dangerous.

During six months of investigation, senators obtained thousands of documents and heard testimony from over 60 people.

"This committee collected evidence that abundantly demonstrated that the federal government was silent and chose to act in a non-technical and reckless manner," according to an earlier draft of the report, which was reviewed by the AP on Tuesday.

The draft had recommended the president be indicted for homicide and genocide, as well, though those two were scrapped in the face of opposition from committee members and concern that bombastic claims could undermine the report's credibility.

The draft concluded that the government "deliberately exposed the population to a concrete risk of mass infection," influenced by a group of unofficial advisers who advocated for pursuing herd immunity long after many experts said that wasn't a viable option.

In addition to Bolsonaro, the final report recommends charges for dozens of allies, current and former members of his administration and his three eldest sons, all of whom are politicians.

Brazil Protest Against COVID Response
Brazil’s COVID death toll of more than 600,000 is the second-highest in the world, and many have decried the president’s attempt to downplay the severity of the virus and other aspects of his response. An activist from the Rio de Paz human rights group hangs white scarves representing people who died of COVID-19, in front of the National Congress in Brasilia, Brazil, on October 18. Evaristo Sa/AFP via Getty Images