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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid