In another nod to his radical base and far removed from the major global challenges facing human rights, President Jair Bolsonaro opened on Tuesday, September 21, in New York the 76th UN General Assembly, describing a Brazil that is going against the grain of science in the management of the pandemic and detached from reality with regard to environmental preservation.
Standing before world leaders, the president said he does not understand why so many countries, together with much of the media, have opposed early treatment, referring to the administration of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, for example – drugs that have been proven to be ineffective in combating Covid-19.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we have supported the independence of doctors in the pursuit of early treatment, on the recommendation of our Federal Council of Medicine,” said the president. “I myself was one of those who took early treatment. We respect the doctor-patient relationship when deciding which medication to be used and when to use it off-label,” he said.
According to Camila Asano, program director at Conectas Human Rights, the president used the rostrum of the United Nations to make a statement of guilt over the disastrous handling of the pandemic.
“As if the embarrassment of his decision not to be vaccinated were not enough, Bolsonaro used his time at one of the world’s most important forums to promote treatments that have proven to be ineffective against Covid-19 and to criticize social distancing measures, going against the science and the WHO,” said Asano. “It is a position that disrespects the victims of the pandemic and further damages Brazil’s international credibility at a time when the president is attempting to attract international investments” she added.
Whereas just minutes earlier the UN Secretary-General António Guterres gave a speech drawing the attention of world leaders to humanity’s greatest contemporary challenges, President Jair Bolsonaro used much of his time trying to convince foreign investors that Brazil has everything they are looking for, while also praising the country’s environmental legislation. According to Asano, however, the speech concealed a very different situation:
“Once again, the president seems to ignore that investors are increasingly withdrawing from countries with governments that do not respect social and environmental rights. Investors will not be deceived by assertions in the speech that Brazil protects the environment, when it is known that the Bolsonaro government is trying to pass bills in Congress to weaken environmental legislation, hinder the demarcation of indigenous lands and ease licensing rules,” she said.
Unlike what was claimed by the president, deforestation has increased during his administration. Considering the data from Deter/Inpe since 2015, the periods between 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 saw the largest area of forest clearing ever recorded.
Just like in previous years, Bolsonaro highlighted the acceptance of Venezuelan refugees, claiming that Brazil has received 400,000 people from that country, and he also expressed concern over the situation in Afghanistan. “We will grant humanitarian visas to Afghan Christians, women, children and judges,” declared the president at the UN.
According to Asano, however, the statements are alarming because as they express religious discrimination:
“By asserting that he will give asylum to Afghan Christians, the president clearly discriminates against other religions. This violates the principles of both the Immigration Law and the Refugee Law and is in no way compatible with humanitarian reception,” said Asano. “Furthermore, it is contradictory to hear the president using Operação Acolhida [Operation Welcome, the federal government’s migrant program] for Venezuelan refugees as a showcase for Brazilian migration policy, since the government closed the borders, in a discriminatory way, to migrants of this nationality using the pandemic as an excuse,” she added.
Even when he tried to show some progress in human rights in Brazil, Bolsonaro demonstrated how this agenda has been weakened and distorted by his government.
According to Asano, the few positive steps presented in the speech, such as the payment of emergency income support and the vaccination of almost 90% of the population, occurred in spite of the president and not as a result of his actions. She also addressed the president’s mention of the ratification of the Inter-American Convention against Racism.
“The president loosely referred to the ratification of the Convention, but it is symptomatic that he has not presented any public policy to combat racism, given that this agenda has never been one of his administration’s priorities,” she said.
As an example of the lack of commitment to combating racism, Asano cited the dismantling taking place in the Palmares Foundation, which is responsible for ensuring the protection of the memory and cultural heritage of the black population in Brazil.
According to data from the Brazilian Public Security Forum, of the 50,000 violent killings that occurred in 2020, black people were the victims in 76% of the cases. The black population was also the preferred target of police lethality, accounting for 78.9% of the 6,416 deaths caused by police intervention.