Uzbekistan’s ambassador to the U.S., only two months on the job, told a Bellevue University conference on trade Thursday that his central Asian country is ending human rights violations and is now open for business.

“It’s a completely new course for our country,” said Javlon Vakhobov, speaking to about 75 people attending the conference organized by the trade group Salama International of Omaha.

A guiding principle, he said: “The government must serve the people, not the other way around,” with goals of openness and transparency of government spending and operations.

Vakhobov said the fact that he can talk publicly about efforts to improve human rights in Uzbekistan is a sign of change taking place since Shavkat Mirziyoyev became president in September 2016.

Last fall Human Rights Watch said the Uzbek government has taken “some positive steps” to improve the country’s human rights situation. The organization had criticized Uzbekistan for imprisoning journalists and political opponents and forcing people, including children, to work in cotton fields.

Vakhobov said the new government has removed 16,000 people from so-called “black lists” that targeted certain groups, and the president has pardoned 3,000 people viewed by some as political prisoners. He has issued decrees aimed at ending child labor and torture during investigations and punishing those responsible.

Vakhobov said his visit to Nebraska — the first for an Uzbek ambassador to the U.S., he said — is because of the state’s strengths in agriculture, transportation and high-tech businesses, “exactly the same spheres that Uzbekistan is interested in developing with Nebraska.”

The country wants to strengthen economic ties with the U.S., he said, hosting visitors from 40 American companies last year and signing business agreements in New York calling for $3 billion in trade.

Uzbekistan, once a part of the Soviet Union, has an educated, tech-savvy population of 30 million people, 60 percent of them under 35, Vakhobov said.

Vakhobov said the country is reforming its judicial system to strengthen the rule of law; promoting the high-quality “Uzbek brand” in manufacturing and services; transferring agriculture and related processing from the government to private hands; encouraging entrepreneurs; signing new international trade agreements; reducing debt and meeting World Trade Organization financial standards; opening dozens of new industrial zones; and allowing regular exchange of Uzbek’s so’m with other national currencies.

It now reports accurate information about its economy, he said, which is growing at 5.5 percent a year. “No fake news anymore.”

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