It was 5 months ago today that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination accepted the complaint from a foreign teacher who refused to take an HIV test to renew her contract at a public school in Ulsan in 2009 and lost her job. The Korean media did not respond to a press release about the case in both English and Korean (a blog or two picked it up), though it did get vaguely mentioned in the NYT last week. Not only did the Korean media ignore the release, but one has to wonder if the ROK goverment is ignoring the CERD case as well. The deadline for Korea to respond (they had 3 months) is, as of today, 2 months past. Now, in truth, the 3 month deadline for Korea to reply is discretionary and the Committee could extend it for up to 4 months (a month at a time) before deciding to proceed and consider the case without a reply from the ROK. This seems to be what is happening, though perhaps it is understandable, considering the CERD has never had a case where the state failed to reply.
From the teacher's point of view, she has already been waiting for three years, and the ROK has already failed to address international concerns over the E-2 HIV testing on two occasions (mentioned at the end of this post). On the bright side, at the most recent Universal Periodic Review before the
UN Human Rights Council (in which the domestic human rights records of
all 192 UN Member States are reviewed every four years), the Canadian government "raised concerns about HIV and drug testing for E2 visa non-citizens," but since it was raised as an observation and not a recommendation, it is unlikely to get an official response when the ROK replies in March. (If I remember correctly, each country had one minute to raise its concerns.)
But then, on the down side, the ROK managed to somehow convince UNAIDS to place it on its 2012 list of 132 countries, territories and areas which "have no HIV-specific restriction on entry, stay and residence." One wonders how the ROK managed to get something that is untrue put on that list.
Also, when drug testing was expanded from E-2 visa holders to non-professional Employment (E-9), ship crew employment (E-10), or Working Visit (H-2) in August, I wondered if they would also be tested for HIV. Well, the form below for both E-2 and E-10 visa heath exams includes an HIV test:
I've assumed ever since Korea's 'removal of HIV restrictions [right before we host an international conference on AIDS in 2011 which would be embarrassing if we ban presenters from attending]' that other visa groups were also quietly being tested. This would suggest this suspicion is true, and is even more reason to be rather disappointed with the ROK's incorrect categorization on that UNAIDS list.
Mind you, no one should think for a moment should think this playing fast and easy with HIV regulations is limited to foreigners. This Hankyoreh article details some of the difficulties Koreans who live with HIV face in finding (and keeping) jobs due to health checks which either shouldn't include HIV tests or to companies who (incorrectly) claim that they're entitled to see such results.