Thae Yong Ho, one of the highest profile North Koreans to defect in recent years, had hoped to visit New York last month to speak on a United Nations panel, meet U.S. envoys, and discuss human rights in the reclusive Asian nation.
A year ago, Thae testified before a Congressional committee. This time, however, Thae said the Americans told him they would not provide him with the security protection he was provided in the past, prompting him to cancel the trip.
“I just wanted to talk about the human rights issues, which are being neglected in the face of North Korea’s charm offensive,” Thae told Reuters. Human rights have been almost completely absent from this year’s flurry of diplomatic negotiations between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and leaders in South Korea and the United States.
An activist involved in planning Thae’s aborted New York trip said it was a political decision. “If Thae goes there, Kim Jong-un’s image would surely get tarnished, and that will most likely come back to Trump who said he trusts Kim.”
Thae was North Korea’s deputy envoy to the United Kingdom and, after his high-profile defection in 2016, South Korea’s intelligence agency gave him a job at its affiliated think tank. But as Seoul pushed for a thaw in ties with the North, Thae left the think tank in May, saying he did not want to be a “burden”.
Soon after, Thae criticized Kim Jong Un during a press conference at the National Assembly, prompting Pyongyang to cancel high-level talks and blast the South for allowing “human scum” to speak.