How not to go about an online petition – Amnesty USA’s online petition on Sri Lanka

International rights group Amnesty International has called for an end to the impunity on the spate of disappearances and has setup an online petition addressed to Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake calling on the government to take urgent steps to curb the trend.

Having read the news-story in today’s Daily Mirror on Amnesty’s online petition against dissapearances, I was surprised that Amnesty’s main website had no record of this petition. A Google search alerted me to its existence on the Amnesty International USA.

This is more than a bit daft – an organisation such as Amnesty must surely realise the value of having all its output available from a central location, or at the very least, indexed in one catalogue that’s accessible through all the websites that each of its country / region offices set up. Clearly this is not the case at present, and leads to a situation where one has to visit at least two websites in order to ascertain whether Amnesty’s put out anything on Sri Lanka’s erosion of human rights.

Secondly, the online petition itself is complicated to send. You need to register first, and I never got past it to actually send the petition, managing only to repeatedly encounter this cryptic message:

Your country does not match the restrictions for this action item.

Registering also requires one to enter a US State even if resident outside the US. Given that online petitions need to be as accessible as possible, from all countries, especially from Sri Lanka, this is quite bizarre and most unfortunate.

While the petition itself can be printed out as a letter, Amnesty International USA’s approach to online petitions leaves much to be desired and is frankly tantamount to a grossly callous approach to online human rights awareness raising and (online) activism.

PetitionOnline, Petition Spot and Petition Them are just three websites on the web that allow for the creation, free of charge, of online petitions.

More interesting, and certainly very progressive, is the e-petition (to date beta) website set up by the British Prime Minister’s office. As noted on this website,

Petitioners may freely disagree with the Government or call for changes of policy. There will be no attempt to exclude critical views and decisions to accept or reject will not be made on a party political basis.

Amnesty International USA’s flawed approach to e-petitions could be inspired by what’s already out there on the web, since I don’t believe that for all their hype and hoopla of e-government in Sri Lanka, ICTA is going to follow the Downing Street model anytime soon.

5 thoughts on “How not to go about an online petition – Amnesty USA’s online petition on Sri Lanka

  1. Well, let’s learn from the strengths and weakness of these sites (like PM’s UK site and AI’s site) and custom build a e-petition site for Sri Lanka.

    Such a site if it gains popularity would be a great signalling monitor to gauge the pulse of the SL community, albeit limited to those with on-line computer access.

    Hopefully, now that this topic has been raised, the GoSL and/or one of the local NGO’s will initiate such a e-petition site.


  2. Deane,

    Good point mate, but official protocol is blind to those who actually hold political office. Tragic isn’t it?


    I think your faith is grossly misplaced in the Government and, by extension, in ICTA. Both are mired in corruption to such an extent that to even imagine encouraging the body politic and society to petition progressive causes is unthinkable.

    Also, an online petition site is not necessarily limited to those who have online access. Traditional door to door survey techniques, feedback through mainstream media, and using telephone, fax and postcards for instance, can all be digitised and fed into an online system, if it is developed with a country such as Sri Lanka in mind, with the population online dwarfed by the population that is not.

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