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WoWasis book review: Bangkok forensic science maven Porntip Rojanasunan’s new book ‘The Dead DO Talk’

Written By: herbrunbridge - Feb• 25•12

The Director of Thailand’s General Institute of Forensic Science is the famous Dr. Porntip Rojanasunan, who co-founded the agency in 2002. With her jet-set hair, stylish wardrobe, and enthusiasm for forensic science, she’s one of the most photographed women in Thailand. She’s also well-loved and humble, and was voted by Reader’s Digest readers in 2010 as the most trustworthy person in Thailand. We at WoWasis met her in person and introduced ourselves in 2010 at a site where a bomb had been thrown, and she graciously spent a couple of minutes discussing the situation with us. Her openness with the Press is welcome in a country in which the opposite is often the case. Now she’s written a book about her life and some of her better-known cases, The Dead DO Talk (2012, ISBN 978-981-4302-73-9), which is essentially a translation of her book for Thai readers, Mor Muen Sob (A Doctor with 10,000 Bodies). The book is well worth reading. The book is far more than a “tell-all” of true crime cases. Rather, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the police and military power structures in Thailand, how and whether they investigate mortal crimes, and how they interact with Dr. Porntip’s General Institute. Extrajudicial killings by individuals associated with police or military institutions have existed in Thailand for years, and Dr. Porntip has riffled more than a few feathers. In her opinion, science is an objective means of determining death, and the responsibility for bringing those responsible for those deaths should reside with the legal system. She conducts her office with decency and respect, and is a devout Buddhist, and is thus able to weather political storms in Thailand. The first part of her book describes her youth, adolescence, and career path, a bit slow-going, but worthwhile background information. In part two, she gets more into politics, forensics, and social issues, and that’s where the book really shines. She’s no fan of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and discusses extrajudicial killings on his watch. The killing of Muslim protesters by the Thai military at Tak Bai is another fascinating chapter, as is her description of the challenges of processing the dead immediately after the tsunami of December 26, 2004. She also offers an interesting analysis of the difficulties in determining those responsible for roadside bombings in Southern Thailand. In her final pages, she sums up her philosophy regarding the position of her General Institute of Forensic Science within the framework of Thai Society: 

… Thailand remains in stasis with regards to the tracing of missing people, the identification of unknown remains, and the more prominent use of forensic science within the Justice system to help uphold human rights.

Thailand remains a long way from achieving the international standard of solving 90 per cent of missing persons cases. Our track record of identifying unidentified remains is even worse. The government needs to ensure that the police do their jobs and properly investigate such cases, rather than do the minimal possible to ensure they can tap the lucrative budgets without getting involved in any serious casework.

So if there is anything that I would want the Thai people to do, it would be to continue the efforts to push for a national missing persons register, better facilities and proper training relating to forensic investigation. The tsunami demonstrated the importance of having these resources in Thailand, but these resources should be at the disposal of the Justice system every day, not only for the identification of the dead or for diagnosing the cause of death, but for use in everyday cases. I wish that people would see this and stand up and demonstrate that they want to press for justice so that people who are disadvantaged, poor or lack the knowledge to adequately defend themselves in court can rely on forensic evidence in their defence. This will create more equality than the current system where ‘justice’ is too often only within the grasp of those who are rich and powerful enough to call on or influence the use of law. The police too.

There may be many people who misunderstand why and how I have had differences with the police or how it is that we are at odds all the time. Actually, we have to analyse the reality of the situation and take a long look at the reasons. Being a policeman is a career job. The police are very close to the people and, importantly, they possess both power and weapons. Whenever these things are used in the wrong way, the people become upset and they suffer. As to what motivates me to keep fighting for justice, I would ask [hat everyone demonstrates to the police exactly what the justice system really is. Anyone who has not borne the brunt of this injustice will never know what kind of agony it can cause.

The book represents a keen analysis of judicial politics and the current state of forensic crime detection in Thailand, and is a must-read for anyone living in Thailand or interested in Thai politics. It’s also a first-rate discussion of the relationship between forensic science and society in general. Buy it now at the WoWasis eStore.

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  1. […] the alleged murder weapon, a hoe, could not be linked to either of the two suspects, according to Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan, former chief of the Central Institute of Forensic Science. The buzz, locally, in Thailand, and […]

  2. Homer says:

    Perfect piece of work you have done, this website is really cool with good information.

  3. That’s why they call it “Amazing Thailand.” I’d put the dowsing under the same category as the Thais’ general fear of ghosts that was one of the challenges in processing the post-tsunami bodies.

  4. Paul Ryersbach says:

    No mention of the impact on Khunying Porntip’s credibility regarding her support of the army’s procurement of dowsing wands for bomb detection?

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