A human rights official and community activists are criticizing the governor of Rio de Janeiro state for saying that a missile could be sent to "blow up" drug traffickers in a local slum.

During a ceremony to present a security program, Gov. Wilson Witzel said "our military police do not want to kill them, but we cannot allow scenes like the one we saw," referring to television images of armed traffickers shooting at police carrying out an operation in Rio's City of God slum.

"If it were with the authorization of the United Nations, in other parts of the world, we could send a missile there to blow up those people," said Witzel, who was elected after supporting the hardline anti-crime policy of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who also has a penchant for controversial comments.

The governor's comments won applause from those attending the security event, but human rights and community activists said they feared such words will only increase already high levels of violence in the state.

"It is necessary to remind the ex-judge that Brazil does not have the death penalty. We are in a democratic state of law and not barbarism," Renata Souza, head of the Rio legislative assembly's human rights commission, wrote on her Instagram account Saturday.

The activist group Redes de la Maré, a large complex of Rio slums or favelas, said Witzel has a "discriminatory" view of the favelas.

"We cannot accept that residents of the favelas are criminalized," it said in a statement. "The serious public security crisis will be not be resolved with statements that incite more violence."

Police violence in Rio de Janeiro is at historically high levels. In the first quarter of the year, police killed 434 people — almost five per day — according to official data.