Nahdlatul Ulama and the Republic of Indonesia launch “AAA Initiative” to mobilize the Global South in support of a rules-based international order

“As occurred in this very hall, in 1955…. we of the Global South need to raise our collective voice once again. We need to raise a powerful voice in unison, to remind and educate the people of the world about the remarkable, precious, and yet highly fragile consensus that humanity achieved in 1945: namely, the United Nations Charter.”
~ H.E. KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf
General Chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama Central Board

BANDUNG, Indonesia — From 20 – 22 December 2023, the Government of Indonesia and the world’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, convened an international planning conference designed to “Revive the Spirit of Bandung and the Non-bloc Movement in Response to Current Geopolitical Dynamics.”

Government ministers, policymakers, foreign observers, diplomats, and ambassadors from 25 nations gathered in the iconic Merdeka Building on Asia-Afrika Street in the city of Bandung, site of the 18 – 24 April 1955 Bandung Conference (image below). The original summit, which was held in the midst of the Cold War, aspired to remake the world on terms more just and favorable to those across the Global South who had been colonized for centuries.

The main hall of the Merdeka Building during the 1955 Bandung (“Asian-African”) Conference (above) and the 2023 AAA Planning Conference (below)

Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and Nahdlatul Ulama jointly convened the AAA (“Asian-African-Latin American”) Planning Conference as a first step towards forging a consensus among nations in the Global South that it is vital to preserve and strengthen the rules-based international order, which emerged from the horrors of World War II.

Widely viewed as a milestone in the history of the 20th century, the US Department of State has described the core principles of the original Bandung Conference as “political self-determination, mutual respect for sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, and equality.” The Office of the Historian of the US Department of State has observed that “Bandung gave a voice to emerging nations and demonstrated that they could be a force in future world politics, inside or outside the Cold War framework.”

World leaders at Bandung in 1955, from left to right: Jawaharlal Nehru (India); Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana); Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt); Sukarno (Indonesia); and Josip Broz Tito (Yugoslavia)

Conceived by Nahdlatul Ulama Chairman H.E. KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf, the AAA Planning Conference — also titled “The Asian, African, and Latin American Conference on Religious Moderation” — was convened to address rapidly metastasizing conflicts that threaten international peace and security. These bitter conflicts are often rooted in ethnic and/or religious rivalry. In his keynote address in Bandung, Mr. Staquf said:

Almost 69 years ago — from 18 – 24 April 1955 — an historic conference was held in this very building. The participating countries were, for the most part, newly independent states in Asia and Africa. Their representatives gathered here in Bandung at the joint initiative of President Sukarno of Indonesia and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India.

The conference — which was named the Asian-African Conference and later became known as the Bandung Conference — was meant to remind the world about the principles of the international consensus achieved by world leaders in 1945: namely, the Charter of the United Nations.

Video of Indonesian President Sukarno’s address at the opening plenary of the 1955 Bandung Conference, in which he remarked, “This is the first intercontinental conference of so-called ‘colored peoples’ in the history of mankind.”

The United Nations Charter was an international consensus designed to put an end to the animosity and disorder that has historically existed among humanity’s various “tribes.” Hatred, enmity, and violence among nations, among races, among different ethnic groups, and even among diverse religions and ideologies.

Before the UN Charter, hostilities and wars were normal. Killing between different identity groups was normal. Even genocide was normal. These events had occurred for thousands of years, predating the Roman empire, stretching into the distant era of Sumerian and Assyrian civilization.

Ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, the Persian Empire, and so on: all witnessed and perpetrated such horrors. Eventually, humanity’s propensity to commit violence and atrocities culminated in the greatest conflicts ever seen, which were global. Namely, the First and Second World Wars. Together, these conflicts claimed over one hundred million lives. They shocked the world, and spurred the international community to reach a consensus to end such atrocities, once and for all.

This is why the United Nations Charter came into existence. It was meant to create an international order based on rules and not great power competition. It was meant to enshrine universal respect for humanity regardless of differences of race, ethnicity, or religion.

The vision was to create a brand new international order based on rules, based on respect for the equal rights and dignity of every human being. But such rules — any rules — need a power structure to guarantee their implementation. This is why the United Nations Organization (UNO) was established: to operationalize the UN Charter and fulfill its high aspirations.

Within the UNO there is a body called the Security Council, which has five Permanent Members: these are states that emerged victorious from the Second World War. At the time, they were considered to be the most powerful nations on earth, and thus capable of enforcing the newly established rules-based order envisioned by the UN Charter.

In the immediate aftermath of WWII, this structure appeared to be reasonable and realistic. In order for the UN Organization to ensure global peace and stability, it would require a mechanism that provides sufficient power to enforce the terms of the post-war international consensus upon all UN Member States. The reality, however, has not been exactly what was envisioned. Almost immediately after the establishment of the United Nations Organization a bipolar world came into being, divided between East and West.

The West was led by the United States of America and the East by the Soviet Union. These two poles operated in a way similar to that which had prevailed before the international consensus of the UN Charter had been achieved: namely, a great power competition in which major powers sought to influence, or dominate, much of the world.

This competition — coming so soon after the horrors of two world wars — caused deep concern, especially among our leaders and those of other newly independent nations in Asia and Africa. And so they gathered in Bandung, in this very building, to remind the world’s major powers of why the UN Charter was adopted, and what the UN Organization was originally meant to be. That is, a means of enforcing the principles of the United Nations Charter itself. Of safeguarding and upholding respect for fundamental human rights and respect for the equal dignity of every nation and every human being.

At the time of the Bandung Conference, in 1955, nearly all of Africa remained under European colonial rule. A primary objective of the Bandung Movement was to assist these nations in obtaining their independence.

Ladies and gentlemen, not long after that historic conference President Sukarno expressed his desire to expand the Asian-African Conference. He wished to convene an Asian, African, and Latin American Conference. He said at the time: “We managed to successfully hold the AA conference; now we aim to convene a AAA conference.” [Applause.] For while in 1955 there were many new nations in Asia and Africa, there were also newly emerging nations in Latin America. This is how the Non-aligned Movement was formed.

Ladies and gentlemen, the history of the world has led us to our current state of affairs, in which the beautiful dreams of the United Nations Charter have not been fully realized in practice. Many people believe that our situation is getting worse. Wars, oppression, and countless atrocities continue to occur.

Three weeks ago, during a conference that Nahdlatul Ulama hosted in Jakarta — which we called the R20 International Summit of Religious Authorities (ISORA) — His Excellency President Joko Widodo delivered a speech. He said, and I quote, “It is unconscionable that in today’s hyper-modern world, civilians, women, and children are openly massacred, and wars continue to rage unchecked.”

Such conflicts have become a trend. In recent years the situation has been getting worse and worse. It is obvious to us that if we allow this trend to continue unchecked, the future of humanity will be at risk. Indeed, given the nature of modern technology and weapons, if this trend continues there may be no future for humanity, no future for any of us, except a complete breakdown of our global economy, of our highly vulnerable food supply, and of civilization itself.

And so we must act.

We of Nahdlatul Ulama believe that no global movement is more desperately needed, nor crucial to the future of humanity, than one designed to address this threat. For it is impossible to achieve the international consensus required to successfully address other global challenges if we cannot agree on this.

We of the Global South need to raise our collective voice once again. We need to raise a powerful voice in unison, to remind and educate the people of the world about the remarkable, precious, and yet highly fragile consensus that humanity achieved in 1945: namely, the United Nations Charter. This unprecedented global consensus emerged at an unimaginably high cost, following wars and atrocities that claimed over one hundred million lives.

How many more atrocities must we witness, before we put a stop to this recurring human tragedy?

President Gamal Abdel Nasser, President Sukarno, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru clink glasses during a reception at India House, New York, on 29 September 1960

In order for the United Nations Organization to function effectively, Permanent Members of the Security Council need to fulfill their individual and collective responsibility to uphold the UN Charter, rather than abuse their power to advance a self-interested agenda at the expense of humanity at large.

We neither want nor expect Permanent Members of the Security Council to relinquish the veto power. Rather, we call upon Permanent Members of the Security Council to use their power responsibly, as intended by the UN Charter itself.

The nations of the world need to act now, to prevent the further erosion and possible collapse of the post-war international consensus. We — citizens of each of our nations — are proud of our distinct, respective histories. But now, we need to unite and act decisively, calling upon the world to address a paramount threat to our collective existence.

In 1961, drawing on the principles agreed at the Bandung Conference, the Non-Aligned Movement was formally established in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (photo above)

Inspired by the historic initiative of President Sukarno — which he and his colleague Prime Minister Nehru launched alongside so many Asian and African leaders in Bandung, in 1955 — we have an idea regarding how to accomplish this. We intend to create history, by realizing President Sukarno’s dream of convening an Asian, African, and Latin American conference.

We invited you here so that we may think about this idea together and work towards its realization, for the sake of our children and grandchildren, for the sake of humanity, and for the future of human civilization.

We invited you here to start working together to convene an Asian, African, and Latin American conference which, insha’allah, may be held next year. [Applause.]

So, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your participation in and contribution to this conference. After all, we are merely human beings who need assistance and guidance from Almighty God, so that our efforts to improve the human condition will find a path forward and lead to the emergence of a more peaceful, secure, and noble future for all humanity, and for global civilization itself.

I wish you a fruitful conference, and once again express my thanks to each and every one of you.

[In Arabic] May God guide us upon the straight path. May the peace, blessings, and mercy of God be upon you.

The AAA Planning Conference was held under the auspices of Nahdlatul Ulama Chairman H.E. KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf (above left) and his younger brother, The Honorable H. Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, Minister of Religious Affairs for the Republic of Indonesia

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