The National Human Rights Commission of Korea has recommended the government stop its mandatory HIV testing of foreign English teachers, seven years after the initial complaint was first registered.
The NHRCK decision refers to the compulsory medical testing of teachers on E-2 visas, which includes drug and HIV testing. A petition was originally brought to the NHRCK in July 2009 by an assistant teacher at an elementary school. The school had refused to renew her contract after she did not submit to the test.
The commission initially dismissed the case, citing it as an individual complaint, even though thousands of teachers took the test each year and 50 teachers had already filed a similar report.
But in dismissing the complaint, the commission allowed the case to be taken to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which told Korea last year to apologize to the teacher and pay compensation, as well as remove visa requirements for HIV testing.
Now, the NHRCK has backed the CERD decision, telling the Ministry of Justice to amend or rescind its rules on medical testing.
“The Republic of Korea should actively implement CERD recommendations stemming from the individual communication system,” it said, citing in particular “compensation for damages suffered by the petitioner.”
“Even the vast discretion embedded in immigration control hardly renders it reasonable that while Korean teachers and ethnically Korean foreign language instructors are exempted from the testing, only foreign E-2 visa holders are under an obligation to test for HIV,” the NHRCK said in its decision.
It also highlighted the stigma that could be created by mandatory testing of specific groups.
“Such stigmatization imputes the cause of infection to the group and misleads the general public to think that they are safe from the disease as long as it is limited to a small group of people,” it said.
The decision is dated Sept. 8, but Ben Wagner, who represented the petitioner in both the CERD and NHRCK cases, said he was only notified Thursday. There is no notification of the decision on the commission’s website.
Wagner welcomed the decision, which he said had exceeded his expectations.
"This decision has been too long coming, the NHRCK delayed for nearly 8 years and that has to change. But I can say without hesitation that the decision is a very good one indeed,” he said.
"The NHRCK has taken a very strong position on protecting the rights of foreigners. But even further than that, the NHRCK has been very direct in insisting that the government ‘walks the talk’ when it comes to the international law standards that it professes to uphold and abide by but doesn’t always live up to. "
The NHRCK told The Korea Herald the decision was issued as an addition to the CERD recommendations last year, and it expected the Ministry of Justice to respond within 90 days of the report.
The Ministry of Justice, which manages immigration affairs, was unavailable for comment as of press time.
By Paul Kerry (firstname.lastname@example.org)