BRASILIA, Brazil — The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Tuesday that Brazil’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, has committed “war crimes against humanity” for his record on environmental protection in the Amazon.
Prosecutor General Fatou Bensouda described recent outbursts by Bolsonaro as “offensive, violent and homophobic” and said the president should have done more to stop vandalism by loggers.
Speaking at the UN-backed court in The Hague, she also criticized Bolsonaro’s administration for appointing rights-abusing judges to the country’s highest court and said she would file charges to the court if new impeached President Dilma Rousseff returned to power.
Bolsonaro, who was elected with promises to “relaunch” Brazil by making tough decisions on crime and corruption, has had a run-in with the UN’s prosecutor since he was elected president.
Bolsonaro has said Bensouda has no authority to file charges, but she said the court, which is based in The Hague, has “existing authorities and mandate” to do so and plans to do so.
“I think that today we have to condemn whoever (Bolsonaro) is,” Bensouda said. “He is a war criminal against humanity for degrading the environment, degrading the natural heritage of Brazil.”
Bolsonaro’s office responded to Bensouda with a one-line statement, saying it does not agree with her assessment and Brazil’s constitution protects rights.
Bolsonaro has dismissed Bensouda’s office as part of a multinational international criminal conspiracy against Brazil.
This is not the first time Bensouda has accused Bolsonaro of committing crimes against humanity.
Last month, she said her office will file charges of murder, rape and torture against Bolsonaro and Defense Minister Raul Jungmann for denying or minimizing crimes committed by soldiers during the government of former military leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Before his election, Bolsonaro had his political party drop appeals for an injunction to stop a hearing to consider charges. The attorney general had brought the case against Bolsonaro and Jungmann, alleging they had “committed crimes against humanity” by allowing the dictatorship’s violent repression to continue.
Human rights groups had criticized prosecutors for proceeding with the case against Bolsonaro when he still held power.
Last week, Bolsonaro fired the prosecutors investigating the dictatorship in Brazil’s Amazon state of Roraima and removed four prosecutors who had appealed the dismissal.
That move came a week after the U.S. ambassador to Brazil, William Brownfield, warned that the government’s judiciary would likely reconsider the cases against Bolsonaro and the defense minister if he wins the presidency.
Brownfield had asked him not to carry out any military justice decisions against the current Brazil leader, but Bensouda pointed out that the same was true for the cases against former President Rousseff.
In an interview earlier this month with the newspaper O Globo, Bolsonaro admitted he was worried about his future after his rise to the presidency.
“I’m not going to lie to you: I am scared,” he said. “You know, when you are elected president you are inaugurated on a big platform. Your image of the people turns overnight into that of the people, against you. In the end, you will be back on the ground.”
The task of undoing Bolsonaro’s policy is becoming easier, but he does still have many supporters, including the Catholic Church.
Last week, the Church endorsed a presidential platform that included Bolsonaro’s call for the legalization of the cultivation and sale of marijuana and scaling back Brazil’s controversial drug war.
The church, which strongly opposes legalizing marijuana, recently also opposed decriminalizing prostitution, saying the practice leads to violence.
Meanwhile, police in the Amazon say they are preparing for more violence in the region this year as crime has increased since Bolsonaro was elected. A state government report said crime has increased 10 percent in Pernambuco state in the first four months of the year.
As one example, two officers were murdered in two months, and authorities say the number of robberies involving weapons — one of the drugs commonly sold in Brazil — rose threefold.