Nchama, Cruz Melchor Eya

Prominent Refugees, 6 January 1945

Eya Nchama

Eya Nchama

As a university student, Eya Nchama traced the history of an African slave who became a professor in Spain, and this interest in history and human rights has shaped his career.

As a boy growing up in Equatorial Guinea, he attended a mission primary school and went to high school in Santa Isabel in 1960. His lifelong struggle for the promotion of human rights began at the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain. He chose for his dissertation topic a curious 16th-century character known as Juan Latino, who was brought to Europe to serve another young boy. The child slave, Juan, is said to have educated himself by reading the books he had to carry to school for his master. Latino caught up fast, earned his nickname because of his linguistic ability, and became a renowned professor at the University of Granada.

Nchama originally left his country to study. But when he returned, he found that the independence struggle had led to a dictatorship. He decided to leave again. "I could not teach that Equatorial Guinea was created by God thanks to Marcias Nguema," he said of the then President. Back in Spain, Nchama began to campaign for human rights in his home country. The Spanish secret services soon approached him and asked him to stop denouncing his government.

Nchama moved to Switzerland, where he studied child development under eminent child psychologist Jean Piaget and with Spanish psychiatrist Julien de Ajurriaguera, then director of the Geneva Psychiatric Clinic.

In November 1974, he asked that his passport be renewed. The authorities of Equatorial Guinea refused, and Switzerland granted him refugee status.

In 1979, the UN Human Rights Commission recognised the continuing human rights violations in Equatorial Guinea and appointed a Special Rapporteur. But Nchama's battle did not end there. He went on to represent various non-governmental organisations including the Mouvement International pour l'Union Fraternelle entre les Races et les Peuples (International Movement for Fraternal Union Among Races and Peoples.

Nchama was one of the first campaigners to bring to light the plight of women suffering from female genital mutilation and lobbied for the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, based in Geneva. He was also the president of the Anti-Racist Information Service. In 1993, he served as Special Counsellor for NGOs (non-governmental organisations) of the Secretary-General at the UN World Human Rights Conference in Vienna.

From 1982 to 1996, he headed a research team on African history at Switzerland's Institut Universitaire d'Etudes du Développement. He has also co-authored many books concerning refugee issues and development in Africa. He is currently employed by the Geneva government, working for the Council of State and advising NGOs coming to Geneva.