For more than 30 years, Hans Petter Hougen has worked as a forensic pathologist in disaster areas around the world, and in his recently published book, ‘At work with death’ (Med døden på arbejde) he, among other things, describes his experiences after the tsunami in Thailand.
Hans Petter Hougen has for more than 30 years been sent to areas around the world to help document cases of death after massacre, terror, and natural disasters and through his work, he has witnessed human evil and disasters and especially a few events that have made a big impression on him.
After the tsunami disaster in 2004, Hans Petter Hougen was in Thailand working in a field hospital where a team of forensic technicians, dentists, and forensic scientists worked at their respective posts to identify victims who were individually transported on a stretcher from the about 50 freezer containers that stood outside the autopsy area. But it was not his job of analyzing organs that made the biggest impression on him but more so all the people behind the organs.
In an interview with JydskeVestkysten, Hans Petter Hougen says, “When I came to Thailand, the first thing I saw in the hotel reception was a very large bulletin board pasted with pictures of adults and many children who were missing. I thought, I know well why they are missing and how unlikely they are to be found alive again. To see all these smiling people; happy children, and then know that they were drowned. It made a strong impression, says Hans Petter Hougen.
In his new book, Hans Petter Hougen also talks about scenes from Kosovo that have imprinted themselves and the descriptions from Thailand and Kosovo are strong fragments taken out of a long life as a witness to war, disasters, terror, and torture in most of the world. Hans Petter Hougen has through his work met with experienced colleagues from all over the world and he explains that he has, like many others in his field, chosen to use his knowledge to document and bring the results of evil to light. “Evil can be put aside when there is a natural disaster but when there is murder or mass murder and genocide, then it is pure evil that is behind it and it touches on something fundamental in me,” Hans Petter Hougen says.
His new book is a testimony to the atrocities of the world but also a sensitive description of the forensic pathologist who, behind the professional filter, is a human being with a full emotional register like most others.