In This Article The Bandung Conference

  • Introduction
  • Bandung as a Performance and on Film

International Law The Bandung Conference
by
Michael Fakhri, Kelly Reynolds
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0150

Introduction

On 18–24 April 1955, delegates from twenty-nine states attended the Asian-African Conference in Bandung, Indonesia—from Asia: Afghanistan, Burma, Cambodia, Ceylon, People’s Republic of China (PRC), India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Laos, Lebanon, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and Yemen; and from Africa: Egypt, Ethiopia, the Gold Coast, Liberia, Libya, and Sudan. In 1955, almost all countries in Asia had attained independence, but most of Africa was still colonized by European states. Bandung was part of the wave of an unprecedented number of peoples across the world fighting against vestiges of European imperialism. The Bandung Conference laid the political, economic, cultural, and legal foundations for the so-called Spirit of Bandung and what became the Third World project. Bandung was a coming together of leaders of countries whose combined population made up approximately two-thirds of the world. The US government tried to prevent Bandung, and the Soviet government tried to coopt it; however, the conference did not strictly operate within a First World versus Second World political vector. The five organizing states—the Colombo Powers—exemplified the different positions held by different parties at the conference. India, Burma, and Indonesia were socialist but neutral (“non-aligned”), whereas Ceylon and Pakistan were anticommunist and pro-West. Among the Bandung delegates, none took a pro-Soviet position as such, but China and North Vietnam were Communist states with complicated alliances with the USSR. Japan, a former empire and Axis power, was anomalous. Even though Asian states instigated Bandung, movements in Africa took in the spirit of Bandung with gusto. They continued to push for and assert their independence with their 1958 Declaration of the First Conference of Independent African States (from a conference in Accra, Ghana). Bandung marked the moment when the global decolonization and the advent of newly independent countries changed international law. It also evidenced a belief held at the time that cultures, civilizations, and countries from all over the world, and not just Europe, had always played a historical role in the development of international law. The Bandung Conference will help legal historians, students, and practitioners understand key concepts such as decolonization, self-determination, and sovereignty. It also provides context for important international legal events such as the New International Economic Order, Bretton Woods Conference and institutions, and the UN system. Moreover, it offers insight into the origins and operation of principal fields of international law such as human rights, law of the sea, and international economic law.

Conference Proceedings

Despite tensions and disagreements, the conference was a moment when the majority of the world faced a number of political reconfigurations and possible futures. When reading the different texts derived from the conference, one should look for the different positions held at Bandung. A strong contingent at Bandung was socialist and neutral/non-aligned, which included delegates from Burma, Egypt, India, and Indonesia. Many delegates were anticommunist and pro-West, such as those from Ceylon, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Philippines, and Lebanon. China and North Vietnam were Communist but with an ambiguous relationship with the USSR. And Japan, a former empire and defeated Axis power, was anomalous—before the Second World War, it was a major imperial power, and afterward it was occupied and politically transformed by the United States (1945–1952). The best introduction to Bandung is the Final Communiqué found in Asia-Africa Speaks from Bandung, which is the product of the compromises made at Bandung (cited under Transcripts, Speeches, and Documents). The conference was divided into Political, Economic, and Cultural Committees. Accordingly, the Communiqué outlined a series of principles under the following headings: Economic Co-operation, Cultural Co-operation, Human Rights and Self-Determination, Problems of Dependent Peoples, Other Problems (which identified specific existing colonial cases), and Promotion of World Peace and Co-operation. It concluded with ten principles (Dasa Sila), which were meant to conform with the UN Charter. The Political Committee was the principal committee and was where the Communiqué was negotiated and drafted. Texts in Firsthand Accounts by Official Delegates are quasi-official perspectives written in the style of diplomatic memoir and study. Students and researchers alike will be interested. Abdulgani 1964 and Jansen 1966 are some of the most popular accounts (both cited under Firsthand Accounts by Official Delegates). Firsthand Accounts by Attendees are also very engaging; Wright 1956 and Kahin 1956 are widely read and cited.

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