Review: Lack of gender diversity diminishes power of “Hissein Habré”


On May 30, 2016, Hissein Habré, the former dictator of Chad, was convicted for crimes against humanity. His offenses include rape, sexual slavery, torture and ordering the killing of more than 40,000 people during his rule from 1982 to 1990.

Through the documentary “Hissein Habré, A Chadian Tragedy,” director Mahamet-Saleh Haroun gives Habré’s victims power of their own to talk about their physical and emotional trauma, and their tumultuous paths through grief. Their stories about torture—raw and unsettling—are told directly to the audience, demolishing the protective fourth wall.

But the stories told in “Hissein Habré” are not the stories of the Chadian tragedy. These are the stories of the Chadian male tragedy.

Haroun’s conspicuous ignoring of women in “Hissein Habré” treats Habré’s female victims as an afterthought, without any discernible motive. Rape and sexually charged torture are glossed over as an irrelevant footnote below the suffering of Chadian men.

In a brief interview, one woman recounts a conversation she had with her sister after three men “took” and imprisoned her. The woman’s sister said she’d better toughen up, because the men would return soon. The woman does not say she was raped. The film’s narrator, Clément Abaïfouta—another victim of torture—does not explain this woman was alluding to rape. In fact, at no point in the film is the word “rape” uttered.

Haroun only gives the audience a shallow glimpse into the atrocities committed against women under Habré’s regime. A banner outside the Association of the Victims of Hissein Habré is illustrated with graphic depictions of torture that target the female anatomy. There is no context provided, no statistics listed about how many women were sexually enslaved or raped, nor is there any testimony from women about these methods.

The women in the illustrations remain silent. Their tragedy remains in the shadow of the men in Haroun’s camera, waiting to be recognized.

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