The President refuses to wear masks, initially dismisses the coronavirus as insignificant, defies science, promotes ineffective treatments, and promotes herd immunity, causing the loss of thousands of lives. South Dakota’s vulgar bullies call that Making America Great. The Brazilian Senate calls that, among other things, a crime against humanity:
A Brazilian Senate committee recommended on Tuesday that President Jair Bolsonaro face a series of criminal indictments for actions and omissions related to the world’s second highest COVID-19 death toll.
The 7-to-4 vote was the culmination of a six-month committee investigation of the government’s handling of the pandemic. It formally approved a report calling for prosecutors to try Bolsonaro on charges ranging from charlatanism and inciting crime to misuse of public funds and crimes against humanity,and in doing so hold him responsible for many of Brazil’s more than 600,000 COVID-19 deaths.
…Since the start of the pandemic, Bolsonaro has sabotaged local leaders’ restrictions on activity aimed at stopping the virus’ spread, saying the economy needed to keep humming so the poor did not suffer worse hardship. He also has insistently touted an anti-malaria drug long after broad testing showed it isn’t effective against COVID-19, assembled crowds without wearing masks and sowed doubt about vaccines.
…[The report] also adds an additional violation for allegedly spreading false news following Bolsonaro’s live broadcast on social media last week claiming incorrectly that people in the U.K. who received two vaccine doses are developing AIDS faster than expected [Débora Álvarez, “Brazil Senators Recommend Bolsonaro Face Charges over Covid,” AP, 2021.10.27].
Article 7 Section 1 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the 2002 treaty to which Brazil is party but the United States is not, defines crimes against humanity as murder, extermination, enslavement, torture, rape, apartheid, forced deportation or disappearance, or persecution “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” The final subsection of this definition includes this catch-all: “other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.”
Spreading disinformation and resisting public health measures certainly causes suffering and serous injury to physical health. Promoting herd immunity indicates intent. Seeing the death toll mount but continuing to make grandstanding political statements against public health measures indicates knowledge and acceptance of the deadly impacts of one’s chosen public position.
But convicting elected officials of crimes against humanity for coronavirus negligence and misinformation in the International Criminal Court is uncharted and murky water:
Experts I spoke to say there really isn’t an obvious precedent for a crime against humanity case in a public health setting; the closest examples, like destruction of water systems in Darfur, Sudan, came in the context of a larger conflict. Covid-19 has killed nearly 5 million people globally, and failures in leadership around the world likely exacerbated the toll. Other leaders have made missteps, or denied the seriousness of the pandemic at points, that may have contributed to Covid-19’s spread, from India’s Narendra Modi to the United Kingdom’s Boris Johnson to Donald Trump in the US.
But deliberate intent to allow a disease to spread has to be carefully and precisely separated from what was done in error, or ineptly. The ICC is dealing with some very tough and longstanding investigations, which makes it seem unlikely it would take up a case like this. “Bolsonaro’s response to Covid has been egregious, but for both legal and pragmatic reasons, I don’t see it being something that the ICC will take up,” said Rebecca Hamilton, an associate professor at Washington College of Law [Jen Kirby, “Is Ignoring the Pandemic a Crime Against Humanity?” Vox, 2021.10.26].
Egregious but not criminal—that’s not exactly what I’d want on my campaign posters.