1,000 days of Bolsonaro and Brazil’s grave human rights crisis

Over a thousand days into President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration, Brazil is considerably worse off than when he took office. Gross mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, the aggravation of a public security crisis, and vast environmental devastation are just three outcomes of a tenure that has been nothing less than disastrous for human rights.

In the report “1,000 days without rights: The violations of the Bolsonaro government,” Amnesty International has highlighted 32 government actions that have clearly led to serious human rights violations from the president’s inauguration to 26 September 2021. Millions of people across the country have felt the impact of these harmful policies in their pockets, on their dinner tables, and in their bodies.

The country Bolsonaro portrayed in his recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly does not exist. Far from the president’s claims of overseeing a nation free from corruption, with robust environmental protection and restored credibility in the eyes of the world, in reality Brazil is mired in a grave and multidimensional human rights crisis.

Fourteen million people are unemployed, part of the 56% of the population that faces food insecurity and has little or no access to social assistance. Nineteen million people go hungry every day, affecting disproportionately Black and Indigenous people, and often women take on the lonely challenge of ensuring their families’ care and subsistence, without any support from the federal government. The emergency financial aid that began to be provided in 2020 was interrupted for three months and then resumed at reduced capacity. Civil society organizations have mobilized to mitigate the effects of starvation in Brazil, distributing food for favela residents and providing legal assistance to help Indigenous people and Quilombolas (Afro-Brazilian residents of settlements first created by formerly enslaved people who escaped) to defend their rights. But the state must also do more.

President Jair Bolsonaro has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with a mixture of denial, negligence, opportunism and contempt for human rights. Bolsonaro’s constant statements and actions to downplay the effects of the disease, including his countless antivaccine speeches, the delay in acquiring vaccines, his defence of ineffective drugs, and his encouragement of large gatherings, are some of the reasons why Brazil is close to reaching the heartbreaking number of 600,000 lives lost. These vast figures not only reflect the number who have died, but also the amount of families and communities that have lost their loved ones. These are stories that have been cut short by neglect, by omission, while President Bolsonaro continues to treat COVID-19 as though it does not exist.

Brazil has one of the few public universal health systems in the region, but it has been affected by the government’s austerity measures in the middle of the pandemic. Indigenous People, Quilombolasand even inhabitants of favelas in Rio de Janeiro have had to resort to the Supreme Federal Court to demand their rights to assistance – and even then, the court’s decisions have not been carried out as they should be.

In June civil society organizations, including Amnesty International, presented a study revealing that the Brazilian government could have been avoided 120,000 deaths in the first year of the pandemic alone if it had adopted the appropriate public health measures to fight COVID-19. Organizations have called on Attorney General Augusto Aras to open investigations into the Bolsonaro government’s responsibility. A Parliamentary Inquiry Commission has been underway in the Federal Senate for the last five months and has already brought to light some situations that require the urgent attention of the attorney general, with no clear action on his behalf. This paralysis is not limited to the judiciary. Brazil’s Parliament has also continued to collude with the Bolsonaro administration’s countless failures in managing the pandemic. Over 120 requests for impeachment of the president sit on the desk of Arthur Lira, the president of the Chamber of Deputies.

It is not just the mishandling of the pandemic, but also other government actions that are perpetuating Brazil’s multiple human rights crises.

Bolsonaro and other high-ranking authorities are constantly attacking the press, discrediting the work of thousands of journalists and media workers, and very often threatening the rule of law. Meanwhile, by encouraging deforestation and the extraction of natural resources in the Amazon, the president has exacerbated the impact of the climate crisis on Indigenous peoples’ lands and territories, leaving a legacy of environmental destruction.

Bolsonaro’s government has further relaxed protections and preservation mechanisms, exposing entire communities to disasters, violence and abandonment. In the area of public security, the government has expanded access to firearms by 65%, despite Brazil already being one of the countries with the highest number of deaths by firearm in the world.

The international community cannot turn a blind eye as Bolsonaro’s government destroys countless lives and does untold damage to the planet. The world must demand accountability and stand with the Brazilian people in their calls for the government to respect and defend their human rights.

Jurema Werneck is the executive director of Amnesty International Brazil. Erika Guevara-Rosas is Americas director at Amnesty International