Sri Lankan police force to grant equal status to women

COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka said on Wednesday (Oct 12) it will lift a bar on women reaching the top ranks of the police, as part of wide-ranging reforms to the ailing force.

Sri Lanka elected the world's first female prime minister in 1960, but policewomen have until now been blocked from promotion above senior superintendent, three below the top rank of inspector-general.

National Police Commission (NPC) Chairman Siri Hettige said the "structural changes" would address the problem of inequality within the 80,000-strong force, which currently has just 11,000 women. "After years of poor service from the police, the public want quick reforms," he told reporters in Colombo. "They expect things to change overnight. Unfortunately we can't give instant results, but we are laying the foundation for a streamlined police which is more efficient and people-friendly."

The NPC was set up by President Maithripala Sirisena, who came to power last year promising to restore rule of law and end corruption after a decades-long ethnic war.

Its job is to reform a law enforcement system that critics say has not changed enough since it was established by the island's British colonial rulers in 1866.

Hettige said he expected women to be quickly promoted to higher ranks in the force, which currently does not have a female SSP.

The authorities will also introduce a new mechanism for the public to grade police services to try to identify deficiencies, he said.

Sri Lanka only ended a draconian state of emergency in 2011, two years after crushing Tamil rebels whose struggle for independence cost the lives of at least 100,000 people between 1972 and 2009.

The emergency laws gave sweeping powers to security forces to arrest and detain suspects.