Thursday, April 06, 2017

American Public Health Association urges UNAIDS to revoke ROK’s status as a country with no HIV-related travel restrictions

In May of 2015 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination ruled that Korea should drop its HIV testing requirements for foreign English teachers, and in September 2016 the National Human Rights Commission of Korea "recommended the government stop its mandatory HIV testing of foreign English teachers." The government was to decide whether to accept this recommendation within 90 days, or by December 7, but there are no news reports stating whether this occurred or not. (Though, considering the political turmoil, perhaps that is not so surprising.)

Throughout this time, the ROK has been portrayed in UNAIDS literature as a country with no HIV restrictions. For example, this pamphlet shows "How travel restrictions have changed since 2008," revealing that the number of countries with HIV restrictions dropped from 59 in 2008 to 35 in 2015. While, as even UN's CERD has noted, South Korea should be included on the list of "countries, territories and areas [which] impose some form of restriction on the entry, stay and residence of people living with HIV based on their HIV status," it instead includes South Korea among the "countries, territories and areas that have no HIV-specific restriction on entry, stay or residence."

For whatever reason UNAIDS has not corrected this. In response, the American Public Health Association drafted a policy statement titled "Opposition to Immigration Policies Requiring HIV Tests as a Condition of Employment for Foreign Nationals" and "sent a letter to UNAIDS urging it to revoke its recognition of South Korea’s status as a country without any HIV restrictions – until it actually produces and enforces policies that actually reflect that status." As well, the World Federation of Public Health Associations is to adopt a corresponding policy at their assembly which is currently in progress. Here is an excerpt of the American Public Health Association's letter:
One such example of misrepresentation of HIV-related immigration policy can be found with the Republic of Korea (ROK), which subjects foreign nationals applying for visas to work or study under several visa categories to mandatory HIV testing. Recent decisions by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea both confirm the ongoing existence and enforcement of mandatory testing for E-2 visa applicants and recommend that they be struck down. Unfortunately, despite this discriminatory requirement, ROK representatives declared at the 2012 International AIDS Conference that their government had removed all HIV-related travel restrictions and, as a result, the country was granted “green” (restriction-free) status by UNAIDS, while other states with HIV-related restrictions similar to those enforced by ROK are still classified as “yellow” on this map. This inconsistency in the application of UNAIDS’ assessment criteria could threaten the progress made on reducing HIV-related travel restrictions. We strongly urge UNAIDS to revoke ROK’s status as a country with no HIV-related travel restrictions until it eliminates all mandatory HIV testing policies.
It's nice to see such a stand being taken, and hopefully such pressure will move the ROK government to finally respond to the CERD and NHRCK decisions. The full letter can be read here.