Human rights were kept firmly off the agenda at a seven-nation Asian summit that ended Friday, though activists managed to light up the host city with images of a renowned photographer detained in Bangladesh.
Bureaucratically known as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation summit, the meeting in Kathmandu doggedly sought to avoid controversy.
Bangladesh’s prime minister and Myanmar’s president sat at the same table but did not discuss the Rohingya crisis that divides them, Nepal’s foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali insisted.
No mention was made of a UN call for a ‘genocide’ investigation into Myanmar’s assault on the Muslim Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh.
‘BIMSETC is focused on cooperation between the countries and they did not enter that issue,’ Gyawali told reporters.
A group of Kathmandu photographers managed to interject award-winning Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam – currently being detained by authorities after giving a TV interview about student protests – into the summit.
They lit up Kathmandu’s streets with projected images and slogans calling for his release.
Over 12 images, including iconic photos and quotes by Alam, were projected on walls across the capital ahead of the summit’s start.
‘We wanted to show our solidarity with him. The issue of silencing and censorship is such a regional issue right now,’ Nayantara Gurung Kakshapati, co-founder of the group photo.circle, said.
But prime minister Sheikh Hasina won’t have seen the protest as the activists ended their protest before her arrival.
The main summit achievement was to agree to establish cross-border energy trade in a bid to foster closer ties between members Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.
The accord to set up a regional electricity grid was scant on detail, but Nepal’s prime minister KP Sharma Oli hailed it a ‘significant step’.
The regional alliance of Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand was set up in 1997 with the goal of establishing a free trade pact. Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal joined later.
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