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  • Forces from both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan killed and injured civilians in apparent war crimes during their brief but intense armed border conflict in September 2022.
  • The families of victims deserve justice and reparations to pave the way for a rights-respecting resolution to this ongoing dispute.
  • The two countries should promptly investigate the violations by their forces, hold those responsible to account, and provide redress. International partners should provide support.

(Berlin, May 2, 2023) – Forces from both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan committed apparent war crimes in attacks on civilians during their brief but intense armed border conflict in September 2022, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 69-page report, “‘When We Moved, They Shot’: Laws of War Violations in the September 2022 Kyrgyzstan – Tajikistan Border Conflict,” is the most detailed human rights account to date of the 4 days of fighting in 2022, from September 14 to 17. Kyrgyz forces shot at ambulances and cars carrying civilians and, in 1 incident, killed at least 10 civilians in a laser-guided bomb attack on a town square. Tajik forces shot at cars carrying civilians, unlawfully killed at least eight civilians in various circumstances, and allowed the large-scale looting and burning of private property in Kyrgyz villages.

“Civilians living in the disputed border areas of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan paid a heavy price for the callous conduct of both Kyrgyz and Tajik forces during the fighting last September,” said Jean-Baptiste Gallopin, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The families of victims deserve justice and reparations to pave the way for a rights-respecting resolution to this ongoing dispute.”

Read a text description of this video

In September 2022, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan fought an intense four-day conflict along their common border.  Around 50 civilians were killed and at least 121 injured. More than 130,000 people were displaced from their homes.

VO: The border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan has been disputed since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Periodic, small-scale clashes have erupted there over access to land and water between local populations and at times with border guards.

During those four days in September 2022, the countries deployed their forces, who launched indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks – attacks that could amount to war crimes.  The laws of war require Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to protect civilians during armed conflict.

Human Rights Watch traveled to both sides of the border to piece together what happened. We spoke with witnesses, analyzed satellite imagery, reviewed photos and videos, and built 3D models. 


Date: September 14, 2022

Clashes broke out between border guards. People started to flee.


Date: September 16, 2022


Time: 5 a.m. (TJ) / 6 a.m. (KG)


VO: Jakyp Meldikulov,a 55-year-old retiree, from Kyrgyzstan fled his village of Dostuk after hearing news of violence at the border.

Jakyp Meldikulov: Kyrgy Resident - On the 16th, after getting up at 6 a.m., we prepared and fled by car. We drove for 1 km, then realized we forgot something. We returned to get it. We did not manage to reach our home; shooting had started. We were turned back [by Kyrgyz forces] and drove away. 

VO: Heavy fighting between  forces of the two countries broke out. Over the next hours, it spread across multiple locations along the border.



Time: 6:20 a.m. (TJ) / 7:20 a.m. (KG)


VO: Human Rights Watch investigated an attack by Kyrgyz forces near the village of Chorbog, where two Tajik ambulances and a vehicle carrying civilians came under fire. The attack killed ten civilians, including four children and two medical workers, and injured six more.

By analyzing the movement of the vehicles, their final positions, and the damage they sustained, the 3D model helped us determine that the two ambulances were hit by shots fired from around the Kyrgyz village of Dostuk (DOS-took), about 110 meters away.



Time: 7:30 a.m. (TJ) / 8:30 (KG)


VO: In a separate incident, the Tajik town of Khistevarz  was hit by shelling between 7:30 and 8 a.m. 59-year-old Savrineso Hojiboeva was killed and four of her relatives were severely injured when a shell fell inside the family’s courtyard, in what appears to have been an indiscriminate attack.


Rahimova Fayziniso: Savrineso’s sister: My two grandchildren were outside, my son and 4 to 5 other men were also outside when suddenly there was a big explosion, and I thought that the house had collapsed on me. There was smoke everywhere. Electrical wires were broken.

I began to call my son, and he says, ‘Mom, stand still. Aunt fell.’ I ask. "Which aunt?" My brain did not understand anything. I didn't even realize she was dead.


VO: Heavy fighting continued along the border throughout the day. Tajik forces overwhelmed Kyrgyz forces and took control of multiple Kyrgyz villages.

People in civilian clothes speaking Tajik carried out widespread looting under the watch of Tajik forces, while hundreds of homes and other types of civilian infrastructure, such as kindergartens, schools, and medical facilities, were set on fire in what may have been an attempt to clear the area of its population.



Time: Before 1:30 p.m. (TJ) / 2:30 p.m. (KG)


VO: Sometime before 2:30 p.m., Myrzakmat Hamidov, a 72-year-old retired man from Kyrgyzstan, was killed in his garden in Borboduk. The village was under the control of Tajik forces at the time.


Satkiniso Ahmedova: Myrzakmat’s wife - In the morning [my husband] took our grandchild to school, children were returned home on the way due to the conflict. He came back, I told him that we need to flee. He said, “I am an old man, they took everything from me, what else can they take now?”. He came and stayed here [in the garden].  Then I entered the neighbor’s basement and sat there. After 30 minutes, my daughter called me saying that her dad, who had been answering her calls, was not answering any more.  And then I came running.  As I came, my husband was lying there [on the ground]. Somebody had covered him.


Time: 4 p.m. (TJ) / 5 p.m. (KG)

VO: Around 5 p.m., in the central square in Ovchi Kal’acha, a Tajik town on the border, Kyrgyz forces used a laser-guided bomb with blast fragmentation effects near Tajik forces, minutes after they had arrived. Dozens of civilians were also in the square at the time.

We used 3D modelling to reconstruct Immediate aftermath of the strike, which killed at least 10 civilians and injured 13 others – mostly men who had gathered outside a local mosque after a funeral. We identified the bomb and mapped out the positions of the military vehicles  and the civilian victims and found that the attack was disproportionate and apparently indiscriminate .


Zoidbek Dadobekov: Tajik Resident It was about five o'clock. At that very moment, they struck from the sky. The crowding and stampede began.


VO: Zoidbek Dadobekov was outside the entrance of the mosque, about 10 meters from the impact site, when the bomb struck.  The first thing I saw was my bloodied leg. Blood was flowing down the bottom of my leg. And the consequences of this, for example for me personally, is that I became disabled. My life is destroyed. I've been in bed for two months now. The future of my children, instead of studying, is migrant labor. What else can it be? The burden of their life is now on their shoulders.


Date: September 17, 2022


VO: Looting and burning continued in some Kyrgyz villages while Tajik forces had control. By the end of the day, they withdrew.

Jakyp Meldikulov: Kyrgyz resident When we returned... the walls were still standing, we saw the burns. There was nothing left inside the [houses].  There was no shelling; we saw that [the houses] were burned down on purpose. We lost property that we had been working to procure for so many years. It’s hard.


Rec 1:  The two countries should investigate these serious violations, including apparent war crimes by their respective forces, hold those responsible to account. They should also provide redress to the victims and take steps to prevent violations occurring in future.


Zoidbek Dadobekov: I do not know why this war is going on, what is the reason. There have already been several wars, what is the use of this? Only people die.


Rec 2: Any border demarcation deal should respect the rights of local populations, including to property, education, adequate housing, and water.


Human Rights Watch’s focus in this work is on violations of international humanitarian law, or the laws of war. The organization does not take a position on which side started the conflict.

In late October and early November, Human Rights Watch interviewed 86 people on both sides of the border, including 69 survivors, witnesses, or relatives of victims. Researchers visited the affected villages, examined munition remnants, verified 12 videos, analyzed satellite imagery, and constructed 3D models of attacks.

Human Rights Watch also submitted a series of questions to the governments of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in December 2022 and March 2023. The government of Kyrgyzstan replied with information about attacks against its citizens but gave no information on attacks involving its own forces. The Tajik government did not respond to Human Rights Watch’s letters.

In total, Human Rights Watch documented the death of 37 civilians, including 5 children, and injuries to 36 others on both sides. Media reports and official victim lists indicate that the total number may reach 51 civilians killed and 121 injured. An estimated 130,000 people were reportedly displaced in Kyrgyzstan alone, and as of January 2023, at least 4,000 had yet to return to their homes.

Tensions between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan erupted into armed conflict on September 14, and spread along a roughly 110-kilometer stretch of disputed border in and around the fertile Fergana valley. The region contains critical choke points along rivers that provide strategic water resources to Batken – the district capital city on the Kyrgyzstan side – and to large swathes of irrigated farmland in Tajikistan.

The border was never fully demarcated after the two countries’ independence in 1991 and has periodically been the site of small-scale clashes. In clashes in April 2021, the countries’ border guards were involved.

In September 2022, the countries deployed their forces who fought with artillery, tanks, and other armored vehicles, and on Kyrgyzstan’s side, armed drones. Since September, the governments have engaged in renewed talks to delineate disputed areas of the border but have yet to reach an agreement.

Most violations occurred on the third day of the armed conflict, September 16. In one of the deadliest incidents, Kyrgyz forces dropped a laser-guided bomb with blast fragmentation effects on the central square in Ovchi Kal’acha, a Tajik border town, killing at least 10 people, mostly men who had gathered outside a mosque after a funeral. At least 13 other civilians were wounded in this disproportionate and apparently indiscriminate attack.

A 40-year-old woman who witnessed the attack said she heard a whistling sound before the square filled with smoke. “People were flying,” she said. “I remember the voices of people shouting. A lot of blood.”

On several roads along the border, Tajik forces that day attacked cars carrying fleeing Kyrgyz civilians, killing two civilian men, and injuring at least four other people. A 63-year-old woman whose husband and son were injured said her family crawled out of their car “to avoid being killed in it if it exploded” after Tajik soldiers shot at them. The family lay still on the ground for hours and, when they moved, Tajik soldiers opened fire again.

Earlier that day, two Tajik ambulances, clearly marked as such, and a civilian car came under heavy gunfire on a bridge near the border in Chorbog (Tajikistan), killing 10 civilians. Ambulances used for medical transport receive particular protection under international humanitarian law.

As the day progressed, Tajik forces overran Kyrgyz forces, killing at least six civilian men, including three while they were apparently fleeing, and two in apparent extrajudicial executions. People in civilian clothes and speaking Tajik looted private property under the watch of Tajik forces, while hundreds of homes and other types of civilian infrastructure, such as kindergartens, schools, medical facilities, and official buildings, were set on fire in an apparent attempt to clear the area of its population. Several villages were destroyed or burned down.

International humanitarian law, which applies to all parties to an international armed conflict, requires parties to distinguish between civilians and combatants at all times. It prohibits attacks that target civilians or attacks that are indiscriminate or expected to cause harm to civilians and civilian objects that are disproportionate to the direct and concrete military advantage anticipated. Warring parties must take all feasible precautions to avoid or minimize civilian harm.

The governments of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan should investigate potential violations or abuses by their forces and civilians in the areas they controlled and hold those responsible to account. The two governments should ensure that any border demarcation agreements and interim border arrangements respect the rights of local populations, including property rights, and access to education, adequate housing, and water.

They should also train their military and security forces in international humanitarian law and ensure its standards are upheld in future conflicts. They should promote confidence-building measures between local communities in border areas, including programs to reduce tensions and hate speech. Both governments should endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas.

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan’s international partners should support steps by the two governments to investigate serious violations of international humanitarian law in the September 2022 border conflict and ensure accountability.

“On both sides of the border, civilians said they desperately want the cycle of conflict and abuse to end,” Gallopin said. “To help ensure a peaceful resolution, both governments should commit to protecting civilians and respecting human rights.”

The letter sent by the Kyrgyz Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been updated at their request, to reflect the current position of the Kyrgyz authorities.

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