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, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

US Urges Taliban to Stay With Afghan Peace Talks

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll 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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs