Moving New Documentary “Hissein Habre, A Chadian Tragedy” Sheds Light on Courage and Resiliency
You’ll never forget them. The survivors. Their sorrowful eyes speak the unspeakable – torture, starvation, forced imprisonment at the hands of the African dictator Hissein Habré who ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990. In "Hissein Habré, A Chadian Tragedy," director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun captures the pain, anguish and courage of Habre’s victims in a moving and disquieting documentary that becomes profoundly emotional as each personal narrative is told.
Dohkot Clément Abaïfouta, Chairman of the Association of the Victims of the Crimes of the Hissein Habré Regime, guides us delicately through the landmine of emotions as he interviews the survivors, one by one, while sharing his own personal suffering as a victim of Habré’s violent secret police, also known as the Division of Documentation and Security (DDS).
According to the National Inquiry Commission, the DDS tortured and killed thousands of political prisoners which resulted in nearly 40,000 deaths. Fortunately, Habré paid for his crimes. In May 2016, Hissein Habré became the first world leader convicted of crimes against humanity by an African court. He was found guilty of human-rights abuses, including rape, sexual slavery, and was sentenced to life in prison.
"It was there that I learned hell could exist on earth."
The documentary strays away from giving too much attention to Habré’s trial in Senegal, (where he was convicted in 2013), but focuses on the stories of the men and women, many of whom will never recover from their nightmares and the horrifying scars left on their minds and bodies. One male survivor holds up his hands and describes in vivid detail how the police tortured him by ripping his nails out. “That’s what I went through. The rest I can’t tell you. There are women present. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
Another male survivor who suffers from insomnia every night due to his torturous nightmares says: “I find it hard to work, to feed myself. As a man, I am diminished. There are no words strong enough to qualify this horror. This is what they did to me.”
The methodical and deliberate close-ups of Haroun’s chosen interviewees does not go unnoticed as they describe in graphic detail what happened to them during their years of non-stop torture. The film goes even deeper and exposes how Habré’s regime was backed “technically, financially and materially” by several foreign governments, primarily France and the U.S. who saw Chad as a strategic force against Muammar Gaddafi in neighboring Libya.
The film’s simple but powerful visuals - including a collection of drawings and illustrations of the unimaginable torture inflicted - provides a macabre glimpse into the nightmare what these survivors endured. Tears were often heard in a victim’s voice as they retold their story - tears that sometimes could not fall.
Despite the sad tone of the film, Hissein Habré can be described as a sort cathartic pathway to healing, not only for Habré’s long trail of victims, but for the Chadian people as a whole. The road to recovery is still very long for many of these survivors and their families, and in some cases, healing may never come.
For Kaltouma Daba, 60, her husband and daughter were lost in the tragedy. “My heart is dry,” she says in a harsh tone. Yet, with Haroun’s sensitive approach to his fellow Chadians, along with the skillful and precise hand of cinematographer Mathieu Giombini, the world now knows Daba’s story and those of her fellow survivors. They are no longer alone to suffer and mourn in silence.
"Hissein Habré, A Chadian Tragedy," is playing in theatres now. Click here to see a list of theatres in your area.
Production: A Pili Films, Goï-Goï Prods., Arte France production, in collaboration with the CNC, with the participation of TV5Monde, Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée. Produced by Florence Stern. With: Clément Abaïfouta, Jacqueline Moudeïna, Adimatcho Djamaï. Narrator: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. (French, Chadian Arabic dialogue)
Director: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Director of photography: Mathieu Giombini
Editor: Christine Benoit
Composer: Wasis Diop
Language: Arabic, French