Category Archives: Human Rights

@USAID Video: Just Bring a Chair

In today’s video, USAID shares a message of hope amidst the horrors experienced by 2.4 million Syrian refugee children.  Along with displacement from home, Syrian children experience an interruption in education from which they might never recover.  Ms. Maha, a principal for a girls’ school in Jordan, answered the desperate pleas of Syrian parents as she welcomes us and their children into her school with the sentiment: “Just Bring a Chair.”

Video Description:

“In Jordan, where the Syrian crisis has led to around 635,000 additional people taxing already overburdened schools, hospitals and social services, some people still find reasons to open their arms and make it work. Ms. Maha is one of those people.”

Without access to education, the future is bleak for many of the youngest Syrian refugees.  A recent report by Human Rights’ Watch found that nearly one-third of refugees in Jordan are between the ages of 5 and 17.  Of these children, 56% are not enrolled in school.  Lebanon is also struggling to accommodate the inundation of refugee students.  Soon, school-aged Syrian children could outnumber their Lebanese peers.

Unfortunately, the problems do not end once children are in school.  A report by UNICEF highlights the unique educational concerns of refugee children, citing violence while traveling to and from school, abusive teachers and classmates, and separation anxiety while at school.  The same report finds that even when the school is located within the refugee camp, 75% of children do not attend.

So what’s the solution?  I think an inclusive environment like Ms. Maha creates in her school is key.  Money for teachers, educational materials, and space are paramount for educating this generation of Syrian youth.  2015 saw fundraising efforts by members of the UN fall short of the $8.4 billion goal.  Will 2016 see more Syrian children returning to classrooms?

Read Ms. Maha’s story here.

One Humanity

The World Humanitarian Day is today August 19th, 2016 and the theme for this year is “One Humanity”. The day was designated in 2003 to honor the lives of 22 humanitarian workers who were killed in  a terrorist attack in Baghdad, Iraq.

Currently, there are 130 million people who are living in crisis and face impossible choices. All wars, conflicts and internal displacements disrupt the strong social, economic and cultural support systems that people have built and cultivated over the years. This decimation of all forms of support has a direct impact on people’s mental and physical health. The consequences also extend to our colleagues who put their lives in danger to serve people in many conflict zones. You will recall the loss of lives from the many acts of violence against hospitals and clinics.

As global/public health professionals, it is our duty to take a stand and commit today to move the needle on the 7 core commitments that were identified at the World Humanitarian Summit that happened in May 2016.

Source: LEARN, World Humanitarian Summit

At a minimum, we can do these few things listed below, learn more about these here (scroll down to the bottom of the page):

  • Support the Agenda for Humanity
  • Take the Humanitarian Quiz and see the impossible choices people face
  • Tweet your country’s leader and ask them to commit to action
  • Donate to the UN’s Emergency Response Fund
  • Sign Up to Messengers of Humanity so you can stay involved
  • Start Impossible Choices to walk in the shoes of a refugee

If you are in the mood to learn about some of the horrendous choices people in conflict zones have to make, take the “Would You Rather” quiz here.

This post has been cross posted to my own blog as well.

APHA’s Georges Benjamin writes a letter on health workers in Syria

APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin has written a letter to the members of the UN Security Council to enforce a resolution to end attacks targeting health care workers in Syria. You can read the text below.


Dear United Nations Security Council members:

On behalf of the American Public Health Association, a diverse community of public health professionals who champion the health of all people and communities, I write to call on the United Nations Security Council to enforce resolution 2139 to put an end to the attacks on health workers and facilities in Syria.

In over four and a half years of conflict in Syria, nearly 700 health workers have been killed and more than 300 medical facilities have been attacked. According to well-documented reports, the Syrian government is responsible for over 90 percent of these assaults. The disruption of health services is being used as a weapon of war. This year, by the end of October, attacks on medical facilities in Syria had already surpassed the number of attacks for any other year since the conflict began in 2011.

The attacks have decimated the country’s health system. In Aleppo, only 10 hospitals remain of the 33 hospitals that were functioning in 2010. About 95 percent of doctors have been detained, killed or have fled leaving one doctor for every 7,000 residents. There are shortages of medicine and necessities such as clean water and electricity. Hospitals are overwhelmed with patients needing emergency care for conflict-related injuries and patients are dying from treatable conditions.

In February 2014, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed resolution 2139 demanding that all parties immediately end all forms of violence. The resolution strongly condemned attacks on hospitals and demanded that all parties respect the principle of medical neutrality, and that medical personnel, facilities and transport must be respected and protected. Passing the resolution was a critical first step, but now almost two years have passed since it was adopted and the attacks have continued. We urge the Security Council to take immediate steps to ensure that the resolution translates into meaningful progress to protect health workers and their patients in Syria.

Sincerely,

Georges C. Benjamin, MD
Executive Director

More HIV discrimination from the ROK government: Korea disqualifies students with HIV from receiving scholarships

A few regular readers might be familiar with the Korean government’s ongoing misrepresentation of its HIV-related immigration restrictions: while it continues to receive undeserved recognition from the UN for being a country free of HIV-related travel restrictions, it mandates HIV tests for native-speaking English teachers, EPS workers (manual laborers), and entertainment workers. Despite claims from KCDC and Korea’s ministry of foreign affairs that immigration restrictions have been lifted, one English teacher won a discrimination case with the UN CERD earlier this year, and another case is pending with the ICCPR. Our Section was even successful in pushing through a resolution on immigration restrictions tied to HIV status at this year’s APHA Annual Meeting that called Korea out specifically for its double-talk.

Now there more evidence of discrimination to add to the list. The Korean Government Scholarship Program, which provides funding and airfare for non-Koreans interested in pursuing post-graduate degrees at a Korean university, is open to a small number of foreign nationals each year and is actively advertised on Korean embassy websites and even featured on several university websites for current undergraduates who might be interested. The program “is designed to provide higher education in Korea for international students, with the aim of promoting international exchange in education, as well as mutual friendship amongst the participating countries,” and the payment includes tuition, airfare, a monthly allowance, a research allowance, relocation (settlement) allowance, a language training fee, dissertation printing costs, and medical insurance. Which sounds lovely, except:

Applicants must submit the Personal Medical Assessment (included in the application form) when he/she apply for this program, and when it’s orientation, an Official Medical Examination will be done by NIIED. A serious illness (For example, HIV, Drug, etc) will be the main cause of disqualification from the scholarship.

It is also worth noting that pregnancy can disqualify candidates as well.

The best part is that this information is not even hidden: a Google search on the above line pulls up dozens of results, and the restrictions on prominently featured on the websites of Korean embassies to the US, the UK, Australia, Malaysia, plus the Korean Education Center in New York, GWU’s Sigur Center for Asian Studies, and even Seoul National University (DOC), the most prestigious university in the country.

At least one Congressman is being reasonable about Syrian refugees

In response to an online petition, Dr. Amy Hagopian, our Section’s Nominations Committee Chair, received the below thoughtful reply from her Congressman, Adam Smith (D-WA). The petition asked that U.S. welcome refugees from Syria, despite opposition from xenophobic governors around the country. Here’s a link to a petition YOU can sign!


Dear Amy,

Thank you for contacting me with your concerns regarding the situation in Syria. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this important issue.

The civil war in Syria is a highly complex struggle between Bashar al-Assad’s authoritarian regime and the fragmented groups that oppose it. As the conflict in Syria has become more violent and protracted, radical elements that directly and seriously threaten our and our allies’ security have become more powerful. It has also become an enormous humanitarian catastrophe. Since the unrest and violence began in 2011, the number of Syrians seeking refuge in neighboring countries or Europe has increased above 4 million. The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that 12.2 million people inside Syria have been affected by the conflict, with nearly 7.6 million displaced internally.

The tragic terrorist attacks in Paris have complicated the situation even further. Our number one priority must be protecting the United States and the American people from terrorist attacks. In the strongest possible terms, I condemn the cowardly attacks in Paris and send my deepest sympathies to the victims. I also welcome the French government’s increased efforts to combat terrorists in Syria. It is important that as we fight terrorism, we must stay true to the values enshrined in our Constitution, remember that we are a nation of immigrants, and not let terrorist groups define or change who we are.

Amidst the conflict, radical groups – like Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – have established safe havens and where, they have attracted substantial financial resources. The strongest and most violent group, ISIS, has continued a campaign of terror and has launched violent and deadly attacks in Northern and Western Iraq. ISIS victories over the Iraqi armed forces have made them a real and dangerous threat to the government in Baghdad and the region. Additionally, the civil war in Syria has attracted a large number of foreign fighters, including from Europe, many of whom are fighting with forces affiliated with ISIS or al Qaeda. As we have seen, these foreign fighters may eventually return to their home countries or go to others where their new combat skills and increased radicalization can be used to subvert other governments.

The civil war in Syria has devolved into a protracted conflict that is dangerously destabilizing. The increasing flows of refugees to neighboring countries place a real strain on already over-burdened public services. Sectarian tensions are on the rise and can lead to further displacement of refugees as host communities become increasingly frustrated with the length of their stay. The humanitarian crisis is quickly shifting from being a consequence of the Syrian conflict to being a potential driver of conflict itself, threatening regional stability. Additionally, the increased activity of Hezbollah, the Iranian-allied militia within Lebanon, and its involvement in the Syrian conflict has escalated tensions between Lebanon and Israel, presenting a great security risk.

The United States has not turned a blind eye to the hurt and suffering of the Syrian people and has been the largest contributor of humanitarian assistance to the crisis, providing over $4.1 billion between Fiscal Years 2012 and 2015. These funds have been used to provide critical, lifesaving services for internally displaced populations within Syria and refugees in neighboring countries, including Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt. Channeled through United Nations (UN) agencies and non-governmental organizations, U.S. emergency assistance provides Syrian families with food, medical care and supplies, shelter, and funding for water, sanitation, and hygiene projects.

Due to the worsening refugee situation and immediate need for increased assistance, on July 31, 2015, the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID) announced an additional $65 million in emergency food assistance. These funds are for the UN World Food Program (WFP), which serves approximately 4 million people inside Syria and 1.6 million refugees in neighboring countries every month.

To help address the refugee crisis, I have taken a number of steps. I supported increased funding for refugee-related program in Fiscal Year 2016 so that resettlement agencies have the resources necessary to help these refugees. I believe that helping our partners in the region and European allies cope with this stressful and destabilizing situation is in our national interest and ultimately helps keep this crisis from devolving into further chaos. I also joined a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Homeland Security Johnson asking them to increase the number of people eligible to apply for refugee status. I have also called for the Department of State and Homeland Security (DHS) to improve coordination of the lengthy security check process for those applying for asylum, as well as informing families when some but not all of their members have been cleared. Finally, I have joined other members in advocating for the U.S. to increase the number of refugees we are admitting through our resettlement program from 70,000 to 85,000 per year.

To date, of the millions of law-abiding Syrian refugees, less than 1,800 have been resettled in the United States. Applicants for refugee status are held to the highest level of security screening through which we evaluate travelers or immigrants to the United States. If as a result of the security process, U.S. security agencies cannot verify details of a potential refugee’s story to that agency’s satisfaction, that individual cannot enter the United States. I will continue to pursue ways to make sure our vetting process is effective, without unduly burdening bona fide refugees fleeing the terrible situation in Syria and Iraq.

To be very clear, the United States thoroughly vets all refugees. Refugees are subjected to an in-depth interagency vetting process that includes health checks, verifications of biometric information to confirm identity, and multiple layers of biographical and background checks. Moreover, applicants get interviewed in-person. Members of the interagency team includes the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the State Department, DHS, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Department of Defense. The background check process takes between 18-24 months, happens before an application is approved; and occurs long before a refugee would be able to enter the United States.

The American SAFE Act of 2015, H.R. 4038, which was brought to the House floor for a vote by House Republicans on November 19, 2015, would effectively shut down resettlement of refugees from the Syria and Iraq region. It is wrong to deny asylum to refugees on the basis of inaccurate assumptions, fear, and prejudice, and that is why I voted against it. We must continue to stand strong as an international community and remember that refugees are fleeing terrible conditions and persecution. As we move forward, let us unite to use the tools at our disposal – diplomatic, military, intelligence, and development – to defeat extremism and the terrorism it breeds.

I have also heard several concerns regarding U.S. military involvement in Syria. I am acutely aware of the great cost we incur in both blood and treasure when we ask our men and women in uniform to secure our interests abroad. I share your concerns about becoming militarily involved in another costly conflict in the Middle East. Any consideration of the use of U.S. military force is not one to be taken lightly – especially considering our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and the limited ability to affect certain outcomes in those countries. Ultimately, this is a fight between the Syrian people about who will control the future of their country.

The best way to protect ourselves and our allies in the region from the chaos in Syria is by building the Syrian moderate opposition’s capacity so they can stand their ground and fight this war. There is no easy way to identify those elements in the opposition that we can work with, although we have some developed some local allies, such as the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds and some local Sunni allies and are working to identify additional such forces that we can support. By helping those who are fighting ISIL, the U.S. can ensure moderate elements have a chance at playing a role in the creation of an inclusive transitional government, if a peace deal were to be reached in the future.

Due to the extremely concerning developments in Syria and Iraq, the President has taken a number of actions. First, the United States has conducted literally thousands of airstrikes intended to degrade ISIS in Syria and Iraq, reduce their ability to raise money, and to support the local allies we have identified. We are also currently retraining and equipping a number of brigades in the Iraqi Army and Congress has provided over $1 billion for this process. The President also decided that training and equipping moderate elements of the opposition was necessary in Syria. On June 26, 2014, he requested $500 million as part of a supplement to the budget request known as “overseas contingency operations.” These funds would be used to train and equip vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition to help then fight against the Assad regime. As you may know, this training program did not meet expectations nor objectives and the training portion has been suspended. Since that time, however, the approach has transitioned to equipping moderate elements in hopes of empowering them in this fluid situation, and the President has announced that fewer than 50 U.S. Special Forces will be deployed to Syria to help accomplish this goal. I will continue to monitor developments in the region, understanding that there are always risks involved in conflict and I do not take them lightly.

Moreover, I support the Obama Administration’s diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the situation in Syria that respects the rights of people. While those efforts have not yet produced any sort of agreement that would lead to an end of the war in Syria, I believe that it is helpful to have the major international countries that are involved in the conflict in Syria discussing possible ways to bring about a political transition and end to the civil war. Hopefully, such a course forward would also address the underlying causes of the refugee crisis. Until a solution can be found, we must continue to help those seeking refuge. We cannot let what happened in Paris cloud our judgement, drive policy or destroy the fabric of what America stands for. We need to be strong and smart to fight terrorism. If we turn our backs on refugees, then we risk making ISIS stronger.

Again, thank you for contacting me with your concerns regarding these important issues.. Rest assured that I will closely follow the continuing developments as they arise. Should you have any additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me again.

Sincerely,

Adam Smith
Member of Congress

Amnesty International votes to decriminalize sex work; controversy ensues

Note: This was cross-posted to my own blog.


At its International Council Meeting in Dublin on Tuesday, human rights organization Amnesty International adopted a resolution allowing the organization to develop a policy toward the decriminalization of sex work, with the goal of strengthening human rights protections for sex workers around the world.

The resolution recommends that Amnesty International develop a policy that supports the full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work. The policy will also call on states to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence.

The research and consultation carried out in the development of this policy in the past two years concluded that this was the best way to defend sex workers’ human rights and lessen the risk of abuse and violations they face.

The violations that sex workers can be exposed to include physical and sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, extortion and harassment, human trafficking, forced HIV testing and medical interventions. They can also be excluded from health care and housing services and other social and legal protection.

The policy has drawn from an extensive evidence base from sources including UN agencies, such as the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, UN Women and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health.

It was a pretty big deal – the story has been covered by most major news outlets and was even on NPR this morning – and the decision comes after two years of discussion and debate within the organization.

To call the vote controversial might be somewhat of an understatement. Last week saw a feminist firestorm erupt over the issue, joined by celebrities like Meryl Streep and Lena Dunham on social media, leading up to the vote.

Last week’s internet melee is just the most recent boiling-over of a decades-long debate on the “problem of prostitution.” When I first saw Humanosphere’s reporting on the story in my RSS reader last week, I skimmed over it but did not mentally bookmark it until I came across a post from “Sex Work Research” from the same day. The post links to a 1994 article by Annette Jolin from the journal Crime and Delinquency called “On the Backs of Working Prostitutes: Feminist Theory and Prostitution Policy” (a full-text link to the article is available in the post). It is a decent read, providing the historical background that informs the current debate and breaking down the feminist split on the issue without getting too heavy on feminist theory.

Modern feminists have been unable to resolve questions of this sort: Is it sexual or economic inequality that keeps women from attaining equality? Should protecting women from male sexual subjugation entail restricting women’s ability to make choices?

In fundamental terms…feminists divide into two broad groups regarding the role of prostitution in women’s fight for equality:

  1. Women who stress emancipation from male sexual oppression (prostitute as victim) as the primary equity issue in the prostitution debate – the sexual equality first (SEF) group; and
  2. Women who stress freedom of choice (prostitute as worker) as the primary equity issue in the prostitution debate – the free choice first (FCF) group.

The paper goes on to explain each position in more detail and outline what Jolin sees as the flaws and fallacies on each side. While most of the commentary on the AI vote is shorter and potentially more accessible than the article, it is essentially all a rehash of what Jolin’s paper outlines.

The modern concern with decriminalization (as opposed to legalization, which would allow states to regulate the industry and which AI does not support) is that it will protect traffickers; opponents advocate for what is commonly referred to as the “Swedish model,” in which pimps and purchasers are targeted but the sex workers themselves are not subject to prosecution. However, sex workers and their advocates have pointed out that this model presents a whole different host of problems, including disdain and abuse from police officers (which the model is designed to prevent). What surprised me most was that anti-trafficking advocates and feminists who oppose decriminalizing do not seem to be listening to sex workers themselves, who have very vocally advocated for decriminalization for years – both in the developed and in the developing world.

It can be difficult to strike a balance between principle and “realities on the ground” when it comes to policy, but what ultimately steered AI to its decision was the evidence – mounting research that decriminalization is the most effective way to protect sex workers’ rights to health, work, and choice. As a public health and HIV advocate myself, I cannot help but agree.

It’s (UN) official: South Korea’s mandatory HIV testing for foreigners is racial discrimination

Note: This was cross-posted to my own blog.


South Korea has come under fire in recent years for its treatment of immigrants, migrant workers, and non-ethnic Koreans (and even their own working-class people). Last fall, Bitter Harvest, Amnesty International’s report on the country’s treatment of agricultural migrant laborers highlighted how Southeast Asian migrants went unpaid, were subjected to harsh treatment and squalid living conditions, and were either deprived of medical care or forced to pay for their own care out of pocket (from their own meager wages). In some cases, the migrants were forced to take (and pay for) an HIV test, with employers requiring a negative test result.

In the case of migrant workers, this is clearly illegal – currently, the only visa category for which the South Korean government requires an HIV test is E-2 (native-speaking English teachers from the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand). However, even this requirement – first implemented in 2007 in response to a racially-fueled moral panic – has been determined to be discriminatory and racially motivated, according to a ruling from the UN’s Committee to End all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) handed down last week. The ruling, issued in response to a case filed by a New Zealand woman who lost her job in 2009 after refusing to take an HIV test to renew her contract – has been long awaited by the expat ESL community in Korea. Whether the Korean government will remove the requirement remains to be seen.

The case was brought to CERD by Benjamin Wagner, an international human rights attorney who co-authored a legal paper on the issue of South Korea’s use of HIV testing as a proxy for racial discrimination with Matt van Volkenburg. The paper (PDF) provides an excellent background on the history, political and cultural climate, and xenophobic advocacy efforts that led to the implementation of the testing requirement, as well as how the requirement is a clear example of South Korea shirking its international human rights obligations:

The HIV and drug test requirements for foreign teachers were first established as emergency measures in 2007 by the Ministry of Justice
(“MOJ”), which claimed they were necessary in order to “ease the anxiety of the citizens.” Part II of this Article examines the background and
context of the implementation of these requirements and argues that they were introduced during a period of media hysteria and moral panic…a civil society group called the “Citizens’ Group for Upright English Education”…succeeded in courting public opinion against foreign English teachers by contributing to highly sensationalized media reportage replete with lurid tales of perversion, sex crimes, drug use and AIDS. This group was also successfully able to influence national policy by petitioning the government for measures against foreign teachers, including mandatory HIV and drug tests.

Part III examines the ROK’s international commitments to eliminate discrimination and stigma based on actual or presumed HIV status and
examines how and why the ROK has failed to honor these commitments.

Korea’s HIV restrictions for foreign teachers are among the most extreme form of HIV restrictions in the world…Of the forty-nine countries in the world that continue to have some form of HIV-related restrictions in place for foreigners only about six have restrictions so extreme as requiring in-country testing for foreign workers that must be repeated on a regular basis, and nowhere are teachers subject to such restrictions. Indeed, the ROK’s extreme position toward its foreign teacher population has attracted the attention of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who has urged the ROK to eliminate its HIV restrictions on foreign teachers.

Obviously, any foreigner who tests positive for HIV is immediately detained and deported; in 2008, the Korean CDC reported that it had deported 521 out of 647 HIV-positive foreigners. Non-nationals of Korean ethnicity have been able to successfully challenge such deportations, but the Korean judicial system explicitly differentiates between the legal rights of citizens versus foreign nationals.

Interestingly, South Korea has given CERD “the same authority as domestic law” regarding foreign nationals; however, this means next to nothing as Wagner explained in a different piece last week:

Professor Kyong-Whan Ahn…remarked that the constitutional analysis used by Korean courts to determine whether an incidence of discrimination has occurred is relatively underdeveloped. The method relied upon by courts is the “reasonableness test”. But, Ahn complains, decisions are all too often “a foregone conclusion” with little analysis or scrutiny.

[T]he status of the CERD is unique in that “it has the same authority of domestic law and does not necessitate additional legislation,” as the Republic of Korea has made clear to the Committee on several occasions. Nevertheless, the Committee has responded, “although the Convention forms part of the domestic law and is directly applicable in the courts of [South Korea], there are no court decisions which contain references to or confirm the direct applicability of its provisions.” The Committee has pointed out to the government that the situation may be the result of “a lack of awareness of the availability of legal remedies” and has recommended “information campaigns and education programmes on the Convention and its provisions.” Unfortunately, however, the treaty remains relatively unknown in Korea and neither the government nor the courts have done enough to change that.

van Volkenburg, who has been covering this issue (and its origins) since it all began in 2005 at the long-running Korean expat blog Gusts of Popular Feeling, has a great summary of the ruling and its implications (as well as the best collection of links to the news coverage of the ruling):

The summary makes public the justification the UMOE offered for the tests – something that many people taking these tests have known for years, but never admitted by the government:
[D]uring arbitration proceedings, L.G.’s employers, the Ulsan Metropolitan Office of Education (UMOE), said that HIV/AIDS tests were viewed as a means to check the values and morality of foreign English teachers.

One of the Committee’s recommendations isn’t very surprising:

The Committee recommends that the State party grant the petitioner adequate compensation for the moral and material damages caused by the above-mentioned violations of the Convention, including compensation for the lost wages during the one year she was prevented from working.

It continues with much more sweeping recommendations, however:

It also recommends that the State Party takes the appropriate means to review regulations and policies enacted at the State or local level related to employment of foreigners and abolish, both in law and practice, any piece of legislation, regulation, policy or measure which has the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination. The Committee recommends the State party to counter any manifestations of xenophobia, through stereotyping or stigmatizing, of foreigners by public officials, the media and the public at large, including, as appropriate, public campaigns, official statements and codes of conduct for politicians and the media. The State party is also requested to give wide publicity to the Committee’s Opinion, including among prosecutors and judicial bodies, and to translate it into the official language of the State party.

This doesn’t just refer to English teachers, but to regulations for all foreign workers. And as I’ve covered here, the references to the conduct of the media and politicians is very pertinent, considering the ‘Citizens Group for Upright English Education’ (also known as Anti English Spectrum) worked closely with the media and had access to politicians when pushing for the creation of the HIV testing policy (among others) in the first place.

It will be interesting to see how the Korean government will respond to the CERD’s ruling – whether it will in fact change the law in accordance with its treaty obligations. Based on South Korea’s history of human rights protections, it does not look promising. Even when human rights principles are codified into law, employers (and often police officers) who violate workers’ legal rights do so with widespread impunity and are rarely prosecuted or held accountable – as demonstrated by the cases of the migrant workers in Bitter Harvest and the workers enslaved on salt farms on the islands of Jeollanam-do. The admission that HIV tests were seen as a way to “check the values and morality” of visa applicants is a slap in the face – doubly so considering that only foreigners are required to have “upright values” in order to get jobs.

Nonetheless, the CERD ruling is a major victory – a solid foundation on which to pressure the South Korean government, which has demonstrated that it wants to be taken seriously in the international community.