The lack of internal discipline in the security forces, a high tolerance for abuses and the warlike tone of discourse about crime in El Salvador create an environment that favors the emergence of death squads, national ombudsman David Morales told EFE.
The Central American country registered 3,050 violent deaths in the first six months of this year, the bloodiest period of the last decade.
The mayhem is due mainly to criminal gangs and the battle between the gangsters and the security forces.
"We have identified clearly a pattern of violence that in El Salvador is known as extermination violence ... for purposes of social cleansing," Morales said.
The "social cleansing" takes two forms: clandestine death squads and extrajudicial executions carried out by security forces, he said.
The ombudsman's office is currently investigating 161 murders attributed to death squads and 119 possible extrajudicial executions going back to 2013.
Death squads often wear uniforms similar to those of the security forces and are armed with long guns, Morales said, giving rise to suspicions that the extermination units are sponsored by elements within the government.
He acknowledged a lack of hard evidence to substantiate a link between death squads and officials.
Morales said that extrajudicial executions tend to happen in the context of shootouts - real or fabricated - between security forces and suspects.