Sri Lanka first among 120 nations to celebrate
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
The Movement was formally founded with the Summit held in Belgrade in
1961, which was largely the brainchild of Yugoslavia’s President, Josip
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.
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
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
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
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
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