HERAT -- The relatives of Afghans killed in the tragic downing of a Ukrainian passenger airliner in Iran earlier this month are calling for compensation for the victims and the prosecution of those responsible.
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down the plane on January 8 in what Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called a "catastrophic mistake".
All 176 passengers and crew were killed, including 13 Afghans -- several of which were permanent residents of other countries or dual citizens. Ten passengers used Afghan passports to board the plane, according to Iranian officials.
Citizens of Canada, Ukraine, Iran, Sweden and the United Kingdom were also aboard.
After three days of denial, the IRGC's aerospace commander accepted full responsibility for the incident but said the missile operator acted independently, targeting the passenger airliner after mistaking it for a "cruise missile".
"Why didn't the Iranian government recognise the plane, and why did they shoot it down?" said Muhammad Hakim, whose brother Zain-ul-Abideen Sadaat was one of the passengers killed. "The Iranian government must provide a response."
The body of Zain-ul-Abideen was brought to Herat Province for burial on January 17.
Families of the Afghan victims said some of the dead were buried in Iran, while other bodies could not be identified because they were too badly damaged.
The government of Iran perpetrated a brutal act massacring innocent men, children and women, Hakim said.
"There is no bigger crime than the one Iran committed," he said. "They massacred innocent people who were flying. The Iranian government must be labeled as a criminal government and those involved in shooting down the plane must be prosecuted in international courts."
The Iranian government should also compensate the families of all the victims, he said.
"Nothing can reduce our pain, but we do call for compensation [to the victims' families] and prosecution of those criminals who shot down the passenger plane," he said.
"We condemn the Iranian military for shooting down the passenger aircraft, and we don't accept the Iranian government's excuse saying that it was a human mistake," said Abo-ul-Fazl Noori, a cousin of Zain-ul-Abideen.
It shameful that the Iranian government could not distinguish a passenger aircraft from a missile, he said.
"The Iranian government must provide a response to the families of the incident's victims as to why they killed the innocent people," Noori said. "We call on all the countries whose citizens lost their lives in this incident to not remain silent in front of Iran."
Working for justice
The Afghan government is supporting calls for the Iranian regime to pay compensation to victims' families and is working with other governments whose citizens were among those killed in the crash to devise a framework for response.
Officials from Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and the United Kingdom -- members of the International Co-ordination and Response Group for the victims of Flight PS752 -- met in person at Canada House in London on January 16.
The parties involved "agreed upon a framework for co-operation with Iran ... to provide closure, accountability, transparency and justice for the families and loved ones of all the victims", the group said in a statement.
The group also called for "accountability for those responsible through an independent criminal investigation followed by transparent and impartial judicial proceedings which conform to international standards of due process and human rights".
"I insist that Iran take necessary measures because our people are asking for clarity," President Ashraf Ghani said in a statement released January 15.
Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Idrees Zaman is representing Afghanistan in the response group.
Prosecution in international criminal courts
Iranian officials involved in shooting down the passenger plane must be prosecuted in international courts, not in Iranian courts, said Sayed Ahmad Hussaini, the uncle of one of the victims.
"They have committed a crime and must be punished," he said. "This is the demand of the victims' families. Nothing else can satisfy them."
"At first, the government of Iran hid the reason behind the plane crash, and that has added to the pain of the victims' families," Hussein said.
"The Iranian government should provide compensation to the victims' families, but our main demand is that the criminals who pained hundreds of families must be prosecuted," he added.
"The killing of 13 Afghan citizens in the plane crash in Iran is painful and we condemn it," said Deputy Governor of Herat Province Munesa Hasanzada. "Those who perpetrated the attack must be made accountable and prosecuted by law enforcement and judicial institutions."
The countries whose citizens perished in the plane crash must work together and hold Iran accountable in international courts, said Abdul Qader Kamel, a political affairs expert in Herat city.
"The plane crash by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a war crime, and the world shouldn't ignore it," he said. "None of Iran's excuses are acceptable in this matter."