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

US Storm Falls Short of Severe Predictions, Yet Affects Millions

Governors of several East Coast states close schools, order travel bans, urge people to stay home as snowfall, heavy winds, flooding continue in areas More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle with Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people were displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites 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.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid