BRASILIA (Reuters) – 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 Wednesday .
The Supreme Court, Congress and other institutions have stepped up their efforts to protect Brazilians and blocked some of Bolsonaro’s most damaging actions, the rights group said in the Brazil chapter of its annual world report.
The group’s executive director predicted that Washington, along with the European Union, would press the Bolsonaro administration to protect the Amazon from deforestation under the new administration of US President-elect Joe Biden.
Bolsonaro wanted to overturn states’ authority to restrict people’s movements as they tried to contain the world’s second deadliest coronavirus outbreak after the United States, but the Supreme Court ruled against him.
The Supreme Court also intervened to prevent its government from withholding COVID-19 data from the public. It also lifted a presidential veto of laws mandating the use of masks in prison. In July, she ordered the government to work out a plan to protect Brazil’s vulnerable indigenous peoples from the pandemic, while Congress passed a law forcing them to provide emergency medical care to indigenous communities.
Bolsonaro has consistently downplayed the severity of COVID-19, calling it a “minor flu” and criticizing lockdowns and social distancing measures. HRW said it had spread misleading information about the virus.
The President’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Bolsonaro has argued that lockdowns are damaging the Brazilian economy and leaving many unemployed.
According to HRW, Bolsonaro has also undermined women’s rights, attacked reporters and civil society groups, and stigmatized and bullied Brazilian independent media.
“The Supreme Court and other institutions have helped protect the Brazilians and blocked many, if not all, of Bolsonaro’s anti-rights policies. You need to stay vigilant, ”said Anna Livia Arida, HRW deputy director in Brazil.
Weakened environmental law enforcement has also rebounded the illegal use of fire to clear land in the Amazon. According to the State Space Research Institute (INPE), deforestation reached a 12-year high in 2020 when an area of forest seven times the size of London was cleared.
“Bolsonaro is one of those friendly autocrats that (President Donald) Trump has teamed up with,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW.
“Until deforestation is reversed, the pressure on Bolsonaro will increase as there is no longer a friend in the White House,” he said.