HERAT -- Tehran is continuing to deny the military's involvement in beating and drowning Afghan migrant workers earlier this month, and has until now refused to address the issue with the Afghan government.
After weeks of denials and delays, an Iranian delegation arrived in Kabul on Tuesday (May 26) to meet with acting Foreign Minister Muhammad Hanif Atmar.
The Iranian delegation said it has received Afghanistan's findings on the incident and will investigate on its end as well. No other details on the meeting were provided.
Iranian border guards threw 57 Afghan workers into the Harirud River in Herat Province on May 1, after beating and torturing them, according to survivors and eyewitnesses.
Afghan authorities recovered 18 bodies, while six migrants are still missing and presumed dead.
"Based on the accounts of survivors and the marks on the bodies of the victims, they were first lashed with wire cables by the Iranian border guards and then forced at gunpoint to jump into the river," Abdul Ghani Noori, the governor of Gulran District, Herat Province, which borders Iran, told AFP.
A shameful, unforgivable crime
The Afghan Presidential Palace on May 6 called the incident "an unforgivable crime" and vowed to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter.
Tehran has still not accepted the findings of the Afghan probe committee and it has denied its military forces were involved in forcing the Afghan migrant workers into the river, Gran Hewad, a spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a recorded interview shared with the media on May 17.
"The Afghan probe committee conducted investigations at the incident's site and documented all the evidence and documents along with identifying the victims, and they shared their findings with the Afghan government leaders," he said.
He said probe committees from both countries conducted investigations.
"The Afghan committee has shared their documents and pieces of evidence with the Iranian party, but unfortunately they were not accepted by the Iranian side," Hewad said.
It is shameful that the Iranian government does not accept responsibility, said Abdul Sattar Hussaini, a member of the Afghan probe committee and Wolesi Jirga (lower house of parliament).
"The Iranian border forces intentionally threw the Afghan workers in the river, which no one can deny," he said.
"The probe committee has documented evidence in hand that proves the involvement of Iranian forces in drowning the Afghan workers, which it shared with the Iranian side," he said.
Calls for the UN to investigate
Herat residents on May 17 protested in front of the United Nations (UN) office in Guzara District, calling on the UN and human rights organisations to investigate the crime.
"The Iranian forces have committed a big crime by throwing the workers in the river," said Wakil Ahmad Nikzad, a resident of Herat city. "We call on the United Nations to look into this incident."
The Iranian regime shamelessly denies their involvement in killing the workers, said Muhammad Naser Walizada, a resident of Herat city.
The protesters want the United Nations, as an impartial party, to commission a probe to thoroughly investigate the incident, he said.
"This incident is a humanitarian disaster," he said. "These innocent and defenceless workers had gone [to Iran] to work there and earn a meagre income [so they can feed their families], but [the Iranian border forces] tortured them and put them in the river."
"The Iranian government should be held accountable for killing the Afghan workers, and we call on the United Nations to put pressure on Iranian government to accept the truth," said Abdul Qadir Jamshidi Nikzad, a resident of Herat city.
Previously, more than 200 protesters, including youth, women and civil society activists, demonstrated in front of the Iranian consulate in Herat city on May 11.
They chanted slogans against the Iranian government, accusing the regime of crimes against humanity. Dozens of protesters also demonstrated in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul.
Seeking apology, compensation
Iranian citizens are standing with the Afghans protesting the incident, BBC Persian reported.
Some 250 Iranians, including university professors and civil society, political and human rights activists, in a joint statement on May 16 called the drowning of Afghan workers by the Iranian border forces shameful.
"It is sad that atrocities that frequently take place against Iranian Kurdish Kulbars [workers] on our country's western border have this time targeted poor Afghan refugees on our eastern border," the statement said.
"We, the undersigned, wish the Iranian government offer a formal apology to the families of victims, the Afghan government and its people," it said. "We also demand full co-operation [of the Iranian government] in revealing all aspects of this crime, finding the rest of the dead bodies, paying compensation to the victims' families, punishing criminals and preventing such a tragedy from repeating."
Mohammad Rafiq Shair, a political affairs specialist in Herat city, echoed the calls to punish the perpetrators of the crime and to give compensation to the victims.
"Iran shouldn't hide the incident and turn a blind eye to the workers' rights," he said. "It is a heinous crime that shouldn't be overlooked."
"The Afghan government must defend the rights of its citizens and not allow the neighbouring country to cover things up," he said. "In addition to punishing the perpetrators of the crime, compensation must be paid to the families of victims."
For its part, the Afghan government is providing restitution to the victims and their families, according to Hewad, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson.
"The Afghan government has provided one residential plot and 100,000 AFN ($1,305) to each of the victims' families," he said. "Each of the survivors has received 50,000 AFN ($652) as well as assistance with finding employment."