Brazilian Senators Want To Criminally Charge Bolsonaro Over Covid Response — But They Could Face An Uphill Battle

Multiple news outlets reported Tuesday that a Brazilian Senate committee recommended that President Jair Bolsonaro be charged with crimes against humanity. The right-wing politician was blamed for not handling a pandemic in Brazil, which has claimed the lives of over 600,000. However, Bolsonaro is facing long odds.

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazilian President, speaks at an event held at Planalto Government Palace on June 29, [+] 2021 Brasilia. Getty Images

The Key Facts

Bolsonaro was charged along with dozens of others by a Senate panel, which voted 7-4 in favor. According to the Senate's report, Bolsonaro's decision to disregard normal public health measures as a response to Covid-19 (mask-wearing and social distancing) cost the country hundreds upon thousands of lives. The New York Times reported that senators originally suggested Bolsonaro could have been guilty of mass murder and indigenous genocide. However, they later narrowed their focus to crimes against humanity amid concerns that a more harsh set of recommendations might make it less likely to bring charges. Bolsonaro rejected the charges proposed and defended his reaction to Covid-19, calling last week's Senate investigation a joke, Reuters reported.


Bolsonaro is not yet known if he will face criminal charges. Bolsonaro's appointee, Brazil's attorney general is reportedly in charge of any charges.

Surprising Fact

According to the Times' lead author, the report will be investigated by the International Criminal Court. This tribunal is based in the Netherlands and normally handles cases such as war crimes and crimes against humanity. Some advocates suggested earlier this month that the ICC investigate Bolsonaros' connections to the destruction the Amazon rainforest. The ICC's success is mixed, especially if countries refuse to cooperate. Omar al-Bashir, the former president of Sudan, was indicted over a decade ago. He avoided prosecution partly because he ran the country up until 2019.

Important Background

According to Johns Hopkins University figures, more than 605,000 Brazilians have been killed by Covid-19 since the outbreak. This death toll is second only to that of the United States. Bolsonaro has been subject to frequent criticism for his handling of the coronavirus. He resisted the urge to impose lockdowns or other public health measures and instead pushed back against mask-wearing rules. This was called "people afraid of Covid-19 sissies" and is often compared to the flu. He backed hydroxychloroquine after his own coronavirus attack. This anti-malaria drug is often promoted as a Covid-19 cure despite the lack of evidence. Bolsonaro, who is not vaccinated, has also questioned coronavirus vaccines. Some Brazilians have criticized Bolsonaro for slow vaccine rollout. However, around 74% Brazilians are at least partially vaccinated, which is a higher rate than the United States.

What to Watch

Bolsonaro will be reelected next year. Some polls show that Bolsonaro's popularity has suffered because of his response to Covid-19. Luiz Incio Lula da Silva, a left-wing ex-President who was convicted on corruption charges earlier this year, is also being considered for a presidential run.


Bolsonaro was endorsed by Donald Trump, an ex-President of the United States. He said that he loves Brazil and fights for its people just like he does for the Americans.

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Investigators into Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro recommend mass murder charges over Covid Policy (Forbes).

Brazil Senates Pandemic panel, in Last-Minute Shift. Softened Criminal Recommendations about Bolsonaro (New York Times).