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Spotlight on Africa

'Talking About Rose', a prisoner under Hissene Habre's brutal dictatorship

Audio 10:00
DR

A new documentary film shown in Paris this month sheds light on the struggle of Chadian opposition leader Rose Lokissim who died at the hands of Hissene Habre’s regime. Talking About Rose reveals how she risked her life to tell the outside world about the brutality of Habre’s prisons. The film is especially poignant given Habre’s eagerly awaited trial in Senegal.

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“It’s like a message in a bottle,” Reed Brody tells RFI before the Paris screening of Talking About Rose. “Her mission was to let people know what was going on in Hissene Habre's prisons. With this film, with the trial, that mission is actually coming to pass,” the Human Rights Watch lawyer adds.

Talking About Rose, narrated by French actress Juliette Binoche, examines the life and death of Rose Lokissim and the years she spent in a notorious N’djamena prison called the Locaux (Premises).

She was a central figure to many of her fellow political prisoners, who respected her for her courage and determination. Rose gathered scraps of cigarette paper, writing down the names of the prisoners who had died or disappeared, helping to create a record so that they would not be forgotten.

Brody subsequently discovered the discarded archive of Habre’s political police during a HRW investigation in 2001. It included files on Rose detailing her interrogation, torture and eventual death after she was betrayed and the regime discovered that she was smuggling notes out of prison.

“In that file, Rose says ‘I don't care what you do to me, my country will thank me and history will talk about me’,” says Brody, describing Rose’s last moments as recorded by Habre’s political police.

“The fact she really wanted her death to be meaningful, that's very, very touching for me,” says Spanish filmmaker Isabel Coixet.

Talking About Rose is not the first time Coixet has worked with torture victims in her documentaries, but she finds Rose’s story particularly moving.

“Listening to all the stories about her, all the family talking about her and how this person really had this conscience about her legacy,” Coixet tells RFI, referring to the testimonies she gathered.

Some of the most powerful stories during the documentary come from the women who spent time locked up with her. During one scene the audience is shown a woman closing her eyes and physically recalling as if she is still behind bars being assaulted by one of Habre’s henchmen.

The release of Talking About Rose coincides with the long-awaited trial of Habre expected to take place in Dakar, Senegal in the coming months.

After a long battle bringing Habre to justice, the victims and human rights activists will finally see Habre take responsibility for alleged crimes against humanity.

“We know that people disappeared, but in which way, we don't know exactly. The film allows us to place this,” says Jacqueline Moudeina, a Chadian lawyer for some of the victims.

“For an international audience it's truly arrived at the right moment,” Moudeina says. “People don't think that we had these atrocities in Chad but we talk of 40,000 people dead,” she adds.

Talking About Rose was shown at Paris’ Cinema le Balzac on 10 April.

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