Brazil's Bolsonaro sabotaged anti-Covid efforts, says Human Rights Watch
Brazil's right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has tried to sabotage efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19 in his country and pursued policies that undermine the rights of Brazilians, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.
Other institutions, such as the Supreme Court and Congress, have stepped up to protect Brazilians and blocked some of Bolsonaro's most damaging policies, the rights group said in the Brazil chapter of its annual world report.
Bolsonaro wanted to remove the authority of states to restrict people's movements, as they sought to contain the world's second-deadliest coronavirus outbreak after the United States, but the Supreme Court ruled against him.
The top court also intervened to stop his government withholding Covid-19 data from the public and ordered the administration to draft a plan to protect Brazil's vulnerable indigenous peoples from the pandemic, while Congress passed a bill forcing it to provide emergency health care to indigenous communities.
Bolsonaro has consistently downplayed the gravity of Covid-19, calling it "a little flu" and criticizing lockdowns and social distancing measures. HRW said he has disseminated misleading information about the virus.
The president's office did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Bolsonaro has argued that lockdowns badly damage Brazil's economy and leave many out of work.
Outside of the pandemic response, Bolsonaro has also undermined women's rights, lashed out at reporters and civil society groups, and stigmatized and bullied independent Brazilian media, HRW said.
"The Supreme Court and other institutions have helped to protect Brazilians and to block many, although not all, of Bolsonaro's anti-rights policies. They need to remain vigilant," said Anna Livia Arida, HRW's Brazil Associate Director.
Weakened environmental law enforcement has also allowed the illegal use of fires to clear land to soar again in the Amazon region. Deforestation hit a 12-year high in 2020, when an area of forest seven times the size of London was cleared, according to the government's space research institute (INPE).
"President Bolsonaro's policies have been a disaster for the Amazon rainforest and the people who defend it," Arida said.
"He blames indigenous people, nongovernmental organizations and local residents for environmental destruction, instead of acting against criminal networks that are the driving force behind the lawlessness in the Amazon," she said.