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

Video Protests Continue in Ferguson, Spread to Other US Cities

Missouri officials say deployment of more than 2,000 National Guard soldiers helps curb second night of rampant arson and looting in Midwestern town More

Video Ebola, Crackdown on Illegals Hit Business in Guangzhou

Chinese city has largest community of Africans in Asia More

Video Legendary Lebanese Actress, Singer Sabah Dies at 87

Music and film diva, affectionately called 'Sabbouha' by millions of her fans, performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London, Olympia in Paris, Sydney Opera House in Sydney 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.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid