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But because the camps were hidden and officially denied, with few witnesses and often ignored by a South Korea trying to pursue a "Sunshine Policy" of engagement and rapprochement with the North – there never seemed to be much international outcry.Part of the reason, say some, is the lack of a high-profile face lobbying for change. Yet with the UN inquiry, new and diverse lights are starting to shine on one of the darkest places on earth.A UN attempt to hold the North to "full accountability" for mass crimes may alter the chemistry among East Asian states.It may also have ramifications for the North's main bankroller, China, which has been sending Korean refugees back to the North where they can end up in prison camps simply for leaving the country.
Pillay said in January, "an in-depth inquiry into one of the worst – but least understood and reported – human rights situations ...
The genocide in Darfur had George Clooney to raise awareness, and orphans had Angelina Jolie. For one thing, there is a more critical mass of defector testimony.
A decade ago only some 3,000 North Koreans had escaped and made it to tell their stories in the South; today the number is around 25,000.
Public executions are still seen by every prisoner; but the practice of compulsory defilement may have stopped."Still, Hawk says, "Recent testimony suggests nothing is different....
The barbaric nature of these places has not changed."Ten years ago conditions in the Korean gulag were protested by figures like Czech poet-president Václev Havel.