China Begins Fight Against HIV Discrimination

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The NY Times reported yesterday that a Chinese court has accepted to hear a HIV discrimination case. This is the first time in the nation’s history that a court has agreed to hear such a complaint. The case involves a prospective schoolteacher who claims that he was illegally denied a job because he is HIV positive. The complaint is brought under  a 2006 national regulation that prohibits job discrimination against people with H.I.V. The plaintiff alleges that he passed a written test and interviews for a teaching job there, but that the city education bureau rejected him after a physical examination showed he was infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

Although nearly four years has passed since the promulgation of this national regulation, no courts have accepted to hear any cases based on HIV/Aids discrimination. Until now. Critics and skeptics say that the court agreed to hear this case only because of intense media coverage. But regardless of the reason, commentators say that the complaint marks a turning point in the Chinese court system, evidencing the progress that has been made as the courts and court system are reformed.

China is not the first country to reform its court system. Five years ago, I was in Santiago, Chile carrying out a research project about the reforms that Chile made in its criminal justice system. Like most of Latin America, Chile has inherited the inquisitorial system from the Spaniards; this system was secret and had no public, adversarial hearings, only written submissions. Since reforming the criminal justice system (which, by the way, is very impressive), Chile has also reformed its family and labor court systems and is now working on reforming its civil justice system.

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