Truth is the basis for peace, lawyer and member of non-governmental organisation TruthNOW Achilleas Demetriades stated on Monday.

Demetriades, who is spearheading efforts towards the establishment of a truth commission for nearly 2,000 missing people, made the remarks to state broadcaster CyBC, detailing how the commission would work and stating that processes of transitional justice are accepted worldwide as the way to move forward after conflicts.

The establishment of a Cyprus truth commission was proposed by President Nikos Christodoulides to Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar on Friday in the context of the leaders’ joint meeting to the missing persons committee (CMP) lab.

Commenting to the Cyprus Mail after the leaders met, Demetriades said: “I congratulate President Christodoulides for his courage to propose a truth commission. It is a new page for the missing in Cyprus. There is a need to amend the terms of reference of the CMP to a Truth CMP.”

The process of investigating surrounding the deaths of nearly 2,000 missing persons – 1510 Greek Cypriots and 492 Turkish Cypriots – will require “delicate handling” and respect towards the relatives of the deceased, Demetriades told the CyBC.

Establishing a truth commission, however, is something that has been done all over the world and is for the general good, he said, adding that he originally got the idea during Nelson Mandela’s visit to Cyprus, in the context of the so-called Elders group, which included former UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland and former US President Jimmy Carter.

“We must remember that we are not in fact at peace [with Turkey], we are in a position of ceasefire,” Demetriades pointed out, saying that the relatives of the Missing, as well as society in general, were owed the truth – should they desire it – in order to prevent similar events from happening in the future.

Asked whether investigating Greek Cypriot atrocities would “absolve Turkey” of the crime of the invasion, Demetriades commented that three times as many Greek Cypriots had been lost as Turkish Cypriots under shrouded circumstances.

Furthermore, Turkey has been officially condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, which in 2014 ruled for a €30 million compensation from that country for the suffering caused to the relatives of Greek Cypriots who had gone missing during the invasion.

Responding as to whether it was worth investigating 60 years after events, Demetriades referred to the ‘Valley of the Fallen’ in Spain, where researchers recently identified hundreds of foreign fighters who disappeared in the region during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

“We don’t want that kind of situation in our country where the identification of remains is left to the grandchildren or even the great-grandchildren,” Demetriades said.

Addressing the nuts-and-bolts of how the commission would function, Demetriades said that his suggestion was for the CMP to work as is had been doing to-date with the following changes:

First, that the CMP be allowed to carry out excavations wherever necessary and to this end a requested list would be drawn up and presented to the other side.

Second, the CMP would investigate the circumstances surrounding each death and disappearance and document findings with a report.

Thirdly, the conditions of immunity granted to witnesses should be cleared up and legally encoded.

As the system has worked since 1990, a de facto witness immunity from prosecution exists, granted by the two attorney generals on both sides of the green line.

This allows for confidential reporting of events as well as immunity from criminal prosecution, Demetriades explained.

Since both sides had unanimously extended these conditions, a change in terms is technically a debate that can be had, Demetriades said, should there be a will to do so.

The crux of the matter, however, is to determine whether or not there is a will to investigate the conditions under which the missing died and disappeared.

“In order to find the rest of the missing, we must do something more [than before], because time is running out and witnesses are passing on,” Demetriades emphasised.

To allay fears of potential witnesses, that they would be subject to civil action through the district courts, if not criminal action, it is important to institutionalise the terms of immunity, the lawyer added.

Confidentiality was important at the outset, to start the work of the CMP and simply encourage witnesses to come forward and point out burial locations, Demetriades said, but, it is an open question – to be put to the relatives and society – if this still serves the common good after so many years.

“I think the need for all the relatives – if they of course want to know, because some may not – must be satisfied, because building a future without truth is not stable,” Demetriades said.

“Most people don’t know what happened in 1963 or that there were Missing [Turkish Cypriots]. Of course, this does not equalise [atrocities] but the facts are there. Do we want to know them or do we want to push them under the rug?” Demetriades concluded.