On 18–24 April 1955, the Asian-African Conference, with delegates from twenty-nine independent and nearly independent Asian and African countries, took place in Bandung, Indonesia. This conference, widely known as the Bandung Conference, was the first endeavor in the postcolonial era to gather the leaders of Asian and African countries. President Sukarno of Indonesia, who delivered the opening speech of the conference, described it as “the first international conference of colored peoples in the history of mankind.” The emergence of this conference was the culmination of many aspirations that circulated in Asian and African countries: decolonization, anti-imperialism, sovereignty, promotion of world peace and strengthening of political, economic and cultural networks among Asian and African countries. The Bandung conference emerged as a reaction from the (post-)colonial world to European imperialism and its legacies.
Most studies on the conference have examined only its political history, the activities of the participating statesmen, its consequences for postcolonial state-building and its effects on the emergence of international organizations. Against this background, Eslava, Fakhri, Nesiah and others in this volume broaden the focus on the conference while discussing other, often overlooked aspects and legacies of the conference, like its impacts on environmental and economic discourses and on international and Third World non-governmental organizations. The 38 scholars contributing to this volume offer a fresh perspective on the Bandung conference and its legacy up to the present. In their introduction, the editors formulate two research questions that structure this volume: Where should scholars locate the Bandung conference in the global and legal history of the 20th century, and what were the legacies of the conference? To answer these questions, this volume places Bandung in a long history of global anticolonial solidarity and resistance to European imperialism. In this regard, Fredrik Petersson highlights connections between Afro-Asian anti-colonial networks of the interwar period and the Bandung Conference in 1955.
The conference “facilitated and empowered a number of Third-Worldist projects” (p. 12). Among others, it contributed to the emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) as an important Third World actor in the 1960s. However, instead of highlighting this more common narrative of Third World institutions, Katharine McGregor and Vannessa Hearman go beyond Bandung’s legacy of elitist projects. They argue that Bandung also inspired a range of largely ignored anti-imperial transnational solidarity networks from the middle of the 1950s until the late 1960s. Reassessing the impact of the Bandung Spirit on political activists, they argue that the idea of Afro-Asian solidarity connected activists across the Indian Ocean and beyond. In addition to the emergence of the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organization (AAPSO) in 1957, Bandung generated a series of Afro-Asian (AA) conferences, such as the AA Students Conference (Bandung, 1956), the Conference of AA Journalists (Tokyo, 1956), the AA Conference on Women (Colombo, 1958), the AA Writers’ Conference (Tashkent, 1958, second meeting Cairo, 1963), the Afro-Asian Law Master Conference in Conakry in 1962 and many more. Seen from this perspective, Bandung is better understood as “a story” rather than as “a single event”.
For international lawyers, Bandung “was the formal beginning of a project whose aim was to ensure that all peoples of the world benefited from sovereign statehood and international law – the twin building blocks of world order” (p. 9). Bandung formally challenged and significantly varied forms of imperial rule, including those legitimized by international law. The conference formulated principles of international order that supported the values of equality, sovereignty, justice, human rights and peace. Therefore, rather than being represented as “Westphalian”, it makes more sense to describe our contemporary international order as “Bandungnian” because in 1955, through Bandung, international law became truly universal (p. 16–17).
Political, economic and cultural visions and principles echoed by the Bandung Conference were clearly manifested in the final communique. However, the medium- and long-term effects of the economic debates have only rarely been studied. The three articles from Umut Özsu, Priya S. Gupta and Hani Sayed focusing on these topics are therefore more than welcome. The authors stress that despite the variety of political ideologies among the conference participants, the majority of the Bandung delegations was convinced by the theoretical models of developmentalism. Most of them shared the assumption that after political independence had been achieved, they had to and could increase the economic output of their states through a state-led economic transformation and modernization policy.
Another notable legacy of the conference lies in its impulses for social movements in the Global South. Two impulses, in particular, are highlighted in this volume: Bandung’s effects on the feminist movement and on discussions of international environmental law. Aziza Ahmed examines the effects of the Bandung conference on global women’s rights and women’s movements. She argues that the momentum and critique of Bandung and later of the NAM enabled feminists from the Global South to use a broader structural approach to articulate and to discuss discriminations faced by women (p. 450f.). Usha Natarajan and Karin Mickelson analyze Bandung’s legacy on environmental issues, describing how Third World communities articulated alternative understandings of ecology and the economy to challenge international regulations that from their perspective were discriminatory against their states.
Overall, the volume interprets the Bandung conference as a crucial moment in the history of decolonization and as an attempt by postcolonial states to reform the global order. The conference’s significance resulted from the fact that it inspired both conference participants and observers to imagine and to work for a better world. Building on this common interpretation of the Bandung conference, the volume also broadens our perspective by exploring the legacy of Bandung in debates and networks that have so far been only loosely tied to the conference, such as the transnational networks of Afro-Asian solidarity, international economic discussions, women’s movements, and discussions of international environmental law. Thereby, this book emphasizes the relevance of Third World Approaches and contributions to International Law (TWAIL) and legal debates on undoing injustices caused by international law.
 Roeslan Abdulgani, The Bandung Connection. The Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung in 1955, Jakarta 1981, p. 169.