By Eduardo Simões and Stephen Eisenhammer
SÃO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil has excluded complaints of police violence from an annual human rights report, sparking allegations on Friday of a cover-up amid global outrage over racial injustice and use of excessive force by law enforcement.
Alleged incidents of police abuse are collected from a hotline in Brazil, with the data previously going into a broad report compiled by the federal government. But unlike 2017 or 2018, the information was absent from the 2019 edition - the first year of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's term in office.
Brazil ranks among the world's deadliest countries. Although the number of homicides has fallen for two years in a row, there were still over 40,000 murders in 2019.
Bolsonaro, a former army captain, campaigned for president on a law-and-order platform. He has repeatedly backed police crackdowns on criminality, drugs and gangland violence. Criminals should "die like cockroaches," he has said.
Protests in cities around the world and across Brazil following the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in the U.S. city of Minneapolis on May 25, have refocused attention on the issue of police violence in Latin America's largest country.
The 2019 human rights report, published on May 21, made no mention of the excluded material. It went unnoticed until the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper flagged the missing information in a report on Friday.
The Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights, responsible for publishing the report, said in a statement the information was left out for technical reasons.
There were "inconsistencies that were identified in its records" and require "in-depth study" for disclosure at a later date, the ministry said.
Critics see things differently.
"This government has huge difficulty with transparency," said Renato Sérgio de Lima, president of the Brazilian Forum of Public Security - a nongovernmental research group which collates detailed records on violence.
"It was not published (the information) out of a political, ideological choice," he added. "If it had been due to technical questions it would have been explained in the methodological notes."
The outrage about the report comes the same week that Brazil's Supreme Court ordered the Health Ministry to restore detailed data on coronavirus deaths and infections that had been taken down amid allegations Bolsonaro's government was trying to mask the severity of the outbreak, now the second largest in the world.
"(Bolsonaro) does not think police violence violates human rights. He thinks that all police action is legal, legitimate and necessary, and that anyone who complains is a criminal," said Rio de Janeiro state prosecutor Andrea Amin, who investigates murders committed by police.
In Rio, a notoriously violent police force killed 1,814 people last year, according to official statistics. They killed 606 more in the first four months of 2020.
One of those killings, on May 18, of 14-year-old João Pedro Matos Pinto led to protests in Rio.
Brazil's Supreme Court has since banned raids by Rio police during the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Reporting by Eduardo Simoes, Stephen Eisenhammer in Sao Paulo and Gabriel Stargadter in Rio de Janeiro; Writing by Anthony Boadle and Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Tom Brown)