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Sunday, 10 July 2011





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Sri Lanka first among 120 nations to celebrate landmark:

NAM Golden Jubilee this year

A group photo of leaders at the 1976 NAM Summit

The 120-nation strong Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) celebrates its Golden Jubilee this year. Sri Lanka will be the first of the NAM member nations to celebrate the Golden Jubilee, following the official NAM commemoration held in Bali, Indonesia last month.

The event co-organised by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS), will be held at the BCIS auditorium on July 21. Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne will be the chief guest. External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris will deliver the welcome address while the keynote address will be delivered by former SAARC Secretary General and former Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs Nihal Rodrigo.

A documentary on celebrating 50 years of NAM will be screened courtesy of the Ministry of Mass Media and Information. A commemorative stamp and first day cover will be issued by the Philatelic Bureau, at the Temple Trees on the morning of July 21, in the presence of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Minister of Postal Services, Jeevan Kumaratunga.

It all began on September 1, 1961. There were 28 nations comprising Afghanistan, Algeria, Bolivia, Burma, Cambodia, Ceylon, Cyprus, Congo, Cuba, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Lebanon, Maldives, Morocco, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Yugoslavia, gathered in the then Yugoslavian capital of Belgrade. This gathering gave birth to the Non-Aligned Movement.

The Movement was formally founded with the Summit held in Belgrade in 1961, which was largely the brainchild of Yugoslavia’s President, Josip Broz Tito.

The forerunner to this founding Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement was the historical Bandung Conference in 1955, which was a grouping of 29 Afro-Asian leaders, representing countries that were newly independent. This conference was organised by Indonesia, Burma (Myanmar), Pakistan, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and India and was a manifest of Asian African solidarity.

The leaders agreed for a declaration on the promotion of world peace and cooperation, by not being aligned to any of the power blocs during the cold war. The Bandung Conference thus helped catalyse the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement.

India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Egypt’s second President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ghana’s first President Kwame Nkrumah, Indonesia’s first President Sukarno and former Yugoslavia’s President Josip Broz Tito are considered the pioneers of the NAM.

All five leaders were prominent advocates of a middle course for States in the Developing World between the Western and Eastern blocs in the Cold War.

However, the principles of the Non-Aligned Movement adopted in the First NAM Summit in 1961, which were first spelt in the Bandung Conference in 1955, interestingly had their traces in Colombo.

The term ‘Non-Aligned’ and the Five Precepts in conducting relations with neighbour countries were first introduced by Shri Nehru, in a speech given by him in Colombo in 1954.

Five precepts

These five precepts, namely; mutual respect for each other, territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-interference in domestic affairs, equity and mutual benefit and co-existence with subsequent elaborations formed the cornerstone of the NAM.

Following the path of these principles, it was the then Prime Minister of Ceylon S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who advocated that being non-aligned did not necessarily mean that the NAM nations need to be on the fence, neither here nor there!

Sri Lanka (Ceylon) made history at the foundering conference in Belgrade, with the presence of its Prime Minister, the late Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike, who claimed that she is attending the NAM not only as a representative of (her) country, but also as a woman and a mother who can understand the thoughts and feelings of those millions of women, the mothers of this world.

The pinnacle of Sri Lanka’s association with NAM was the hosting of the fifth NAM Summit in Colombo in 1976, the first to be hosted in Asia. Sri Lanka then maintained the NAM Chairmanship for three years from 1976 till 1979.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his Presidential Manifesto, implemented upon being elected to office on November 18, 2005 has clearly outlined his ideals and vision of following a Non-Aligned Foreign Policy in the conduct of foreign relations.

This was reiterated in the speeches President Rajapaksa delivered at the NAM Summits in Havana in 2005 and Sharm-el-Sheikh in 2009 respectively in which he emphasised the relevance of NAM principles in fostering world peace and for the promotion of unity and harmony among people with diverse ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds transcending geo-political boundaries.

It is noteworthy that 1961 was also the year which saw the launching of the Asian African Legal Consultative Committee Meeting (AALCO), which celebrated its Golden Jubilee in Colombo from June 21 to July 1 this year. AALCO was the enshrinement of the legal cooperation of the historic Bandung Conference.

One may ponder the pertinence and relevance of the NAM in conducting bilateral relations in the context of contemporary geo-politics of the world.

With just 28 member nations in the original grouping in 1961, which has grown to 120 nations today, NAM still plays a critical role, especially in striking a balance in present day military-security developments and strategies.

NAM advocates maintaining international peace and security, while respecting the fundamental principles enshrined in the UN Charter.

The purpose of the organisation, as stated in the Havana Declaration of 1979 is to ensure “the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries” in their “struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as against great power and bloc politics”. The Movement continues to play an active role within the United Nations, especially within the Special Committee on Decolonization (C-24), to look into the matters related to the remaining 16 non-self governing territories of the world.

Working relations

Generally speaking, the Non-Aligned Movement members account for nearly two-thirds of the 192 members of the United Nations and 55 percent of the world population, particularly countries considered to be developing or part of the Third World. The Movement also maintains close working relations with the Developing Country Groupings; G-77, as most of the NAM Members are also countries which belong to the Group of 77.

Thus, NAM acts as the representative of the developing nations taking into account their interests in issues ranging from decolonisation, disarmament, human rights to humanitarianism and development aspects as well.

It is also moot to note that one of the integral positions of NAM is that it accounts for over 80 percent of the over 100,000-strong civilians and Armed Forces personnel deployed in the United Nations Peace Keeping Force - the flagship activity of the UN.

NAM played an active role in the elimination of Apartheid policies in South Africa. Its efforts to keep alive the question of Palestine to find an amicable settlement and the solidarity it displays when legitimate national interests of its members are at stake provides moral support and strength to the countries.

Like any political movement, that comprises countries with a wide range of socio-political differences, NAM, over the last five decades, has gone through challenging moments, with some members leaving the Movement, some not being actively involved, and territorial and political disputes among members.

Also, in the context of emerging new power centres and the NAM members forming strategic alliances with these powers, the way forward to sustain the relevance of NAM is to think new.

The NAM would assume added significance in today’s context, if it continues to adhere to the founding principles of the Movement, in protecting the collective interests of the Member States, especially in the face of numerous new and emerging challenges that confront humanity.

The text was compiled from interviews with External Affairs Ministry’s Director General of Public Communications, Sarath Dissanayake and Director, United Nations and Multilateral Affairs Division, Samantha Jayasuriya.


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