News / Asia

S. Korea Challenged Over Mandatory HIV Testing

SEOUL — The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has accepted a claim against South Korea filed by a New Zealand woman who was employed as an English teacher in the country. The case challenges mandatory HIV testing for many foreigners working in South Korea.

Those who come to South Korea to teach English - and engage in some other occupations - are required to have criminal background checks and tests for illegal drugs and the HIV virus.

South Korean nationals in equivalent jobs are not required to submit to such scrutiny.

One former teacher, told to have a second HIV test within nine months after her first clean results, appealed to the U.N.'s International Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, known as CERD.

The committee is composed of independent experts monitoring implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Lisa Griffin contends South Korea uses HIV tests as a proxy for racial discrimination. She says the mandatory tests stigmatize foreigners as people who are a high-risk for AIDS, which leads to local hostility against them.

Griffin had to leave South Korea in September 2009 after a school near Ulsan refused to renew her elementary school teaching contract because she did not submit to HIV re-testing under education ministry regulations.

Her attorney, Kyunghee University law school professor Benjamin Wagner, says Griffin had already submitted to a mandatory test required by the justice ministry.

“She had been tested earlier. Her (HIV) status was negative. And she felt that there was no legitimate reason at that point, other than her being a foreigner, for her to be tested for HIV,” Wagner explained.

Griffin's efforts to get South Korea to change its policy failed. That cleared the way for the case to be filed with CERD, in Geneva, which accepted the claim after seven months of deliberation.

Professor Wagner says this marks the first time the treaty is being used to remedy alleged racial discrimination in South Korea.

“The Ministry of Education that's doing the secondary testing, or the re-testing that this particular case is about, has said that they don't think that teachers have HIV or have the ability to transmit it in the classrooms. They just want to assure parents. So it's a symbolic test," Wagner added. "The testing is being done in order to give people peace of mind.”

In an e-mailed statement, Griffin - who is now employed in the United States - expresses pleasure with the international committee accepting her case and lamenting arbitration failed in South Korea.

“Presuming that someone is HIV positive and likely to be a threat to the public health merely because of their race or ethnicity is wrong," Griffin said in an email statement to VOA. "Racial discrimination has no place in the 21st century and to have government agencies that either turn a blind eye to or actively preserve and promote such outdated ideas is unconscionable.”

The president of the New Right (wing) Parents' Union, Kim Jong-il, says HIV testing of foreign teachers must be maintained to protect the health of South Koreans.

Kim says there are many criminals coming to teach in South Korea, who hide their backgrounds. Since they have contact with young students, he contends, the testing should remain mandatory so the relatively low AIDS rate in South Korea does not increase.

Some lawmakers have also advocated mandatory testing for all foreigners who want to work in the country.

Professor Wagner stresses Griffin's legal action is not meant to discourage HIV testing. “Obviously public health is very important. Testing for AIDS should be encouraged. Korea definitely has a right to protect its public health and it's in its interest," Wagner stated. "But what's the best way to go about doing that without increasing racial discrimination or xenophobia. So the CERD should be able to provide some guidance and that's ultimately what the case is about."

Wagner expresses confidence they will win the case and it will prompt positive change in the country. He notes South Korea is a binding signatory to the anti-discrimination treaty. The government has four months to respond to Griffin's claim, which was accepted in Geneva on July 10.

The Foreign Ministry acknowledges it received the documents from CERD this week. Officials say they are consulting with relevant domestic agencies in anticipation of making a complete response.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (a former South Korean foreign minister) has personally requested the government drop mandatory HIV testing of foreigners.

The United States and South Korea issued a joint declaration in 2010 saying each had dropped its HIV restrictions. But South Korea exempted the testing of foreign teachers from that pledge.

Youmi Kim, VOA Seoul Bureau contributed to this report.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Mike from: Korea
August 10, 2012 1:14 AM
It's their country and foreigners have no right to be in Korea but on its terms. The outrage is that Western countries can't do the same. The West could have prevented countless cases of TB, hepatitis, etc. by screening Korean immigrants.

Don't try the diversity racket outside of the "white" world. It doesn't work. Asia is already 100% diverse... get it?


by: Andrew from: Korea
July 21, 2012 9:47 AM
Thank you for reporting this.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid