Santiago Alcazar, the former head of the WHO in Brazil, said in a discussion hosted by the Geneva Global Health Hub (G2H2) on Monday that Brazil would propose that the WHO establish a project on the health of indigenous peoples during of the organization’s board meeting, which begins this weekend.
Alcazar was addressing a G2H2 discussion on authoritarianism in times of a pandemic, which focused on the judgement of Permanent People’s Court (PPT) that the former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was “responsible for crimes against humanity” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indigenous Peoples, Blacks and quilombola (descendants of runaway slaves) were most affected by the “rejection of isolation, social distancing, [COVID] prevention and vaccination,” according to the PPT, which was established in 1979 to expose violations of the human rights of ordinary people around the world.
“Contrary to the unanimous position of scientists around the world and the recommendations of the WHO, Bolsonaro has not only ensured that the Brazilian population does not adopt the measures planned to limit the infection, but has repeatedly created them various obstacles, thwarting his own government’s attempts to protect the people from the virus,” according to the PPT judgment.
Bolsonaro is infamous for saying during the pandemic: “Everyone has to die someday. We have to stop being a country of sissies.
At the height of the pandemic, there were reports of people buried in mass graves in the Mannaus in the Amazon as cemeteries struggled to cope with the death toll. In June 2020, as the death toll soared, Bolsonaro’s government simply stopped publishing statistics on COVID-19 infections and deaths.
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“Genocidal weaponization of COVID”
G2H2 co-chair Nicoletta Dentico, who was part of the PPT jury that heard evidence against Bolsonaro, said the court brought global attention to Bolsonaro’s “genocidal weaponization of COVID”.
Dentico said holding public hearings is one of the few tools civil society can use against authoritarian governments during a pandemic.
PPT secretary Gianni Tognoni told the meeting that the Commission for the Defense of Human Rights Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns, the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (Apib), the Black Coalition for the Rights and Public Services International (PSI) requested a hearing.
They argued that Bolsonaro and his government “intentionally spread COVID-19”, causing an estimated 480,000 unnecessary deaths which “mainly affected the indigenous population, people of color and health workers”.
Brazilian human rights lawyer Eloisa Machado said the Bolsonaro government had a “deliberate plan to spread COVID-19”, but the country’s attorney general, aligned with the former president, had not been interested in investigating criminal activity.
“There was an explicit recommendation to follow recommendations that were not medically approved, there was resistance to adopting measures to reduce the movement of people and there was also an explicit decision against the use of masks “, said Machado.
“States and municipalities also did not have the financial resources to fight COVID-19, there was negligence in the purchase of vaccines and there was a lack of vaccination campaign,” said Machado.
While a parliamentary committee concluded that Bolsonaro was spreading the pandemic by failing to implement preventive measures, conditions in the country were not conducive to openly challenging the “democratically elected dictator”, Machado added.
There has been legal action against some of Bolsonaro’s most outrageous claims – such as that a person could get AIDS from the COVID-19 vaccine – but nothing to expose the systemic way in which he has pursued a deliberate policy of massive COVID-19 infection instead of trying to protect people.
As a result, civil society organizations chose to approach the TPP for a hearing to show that there had been a systemic policy that had particularly affected the most vulnerable people in the country.
“We are confident that the judicial interpretation of the TPP decision can be used to deliver justice, aside from that occurring in a symbolic realm,” Machado said, noting that civil society is adamant that it there should be no amnesty for crimes against indigenous populations committed during the pandemic.
State of emergency in the Yanomami
Alcazar, who now works for the Fiocruz Foundation, said indigenous communities have been left behind during COVID-19. Last week, the government declared a state of emergency in Yanomami territory, Brazil’s largest indigenous territory, in response to severe malnutrition.
During Bolsanaro’s rule, illegal miners operated freely in the region, often clashing violently with the local population, and the health system was neglected.
“Brazil has 2.7% of the world’s population but it has 11% of COVID deaths,” Alcazar said, adding that it was not just the result of incompetence but of “malicious intent.” .
Image credits: Aljazeera.
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