Two members of the US House of Representatives submitted a bill that, if passed, would help prosecute human rights violators and businesspeople in dictatorial countries who help them to evade US and international sanctions.
Representative Joe Wilson, a Republican, and Representative Ted Deutsch, a Democrat, introduced a bill called the Bassam Barabandi Rewards for Justice Act.
Barabandi is a dissident Syrian diplomat based in Washington, who, until 2013, served as consul and first secretary at the Syrian Embassy to Washington.
The two representatives said in a joint statement, “Congressman, Joe Wilson, and Congressman, Ted Deutch, reintroduced the Bassam Barabandi Rewards for Justice Act. This bill will incentivize informants to come forward with actionable information regarding evasion of US or UN sanctions by expanding the rewards for justice program at the State Department.”
In an exclusive interview with The Syrian Observer, Barbandi said that the bill, if approved, would be a way to make the sanctions more specific, targeting human rights violators and their supporters rather than targeting broad sectors of the population.
“Barabandi is a former Syrian diplomat who defected and worked to oppose the Assad regime’s human rights abuses. In his time at the embassy, he provided information on regime activities and sanction evasion to Congress, US officials, and think tank scholars,” said Congressman Wilson. “I am grateful for Bassam, who inspired this bill, and has advocated expanding the US State Department Rewards for Justice program, incentivizing people around the world to provide information on sanctions violators to improve enforcement.”
The Syrian Observer asked Barbandi about the start of the project and its developments. He said that the idea started two years ago when he spoke with the Treasury Department about using the American law known as “Rewards for Justice” to make sure penalties affect violators and evaders and not the general Syrian public. However, Department of Treasury officials told Barabandi that they are an executive body and that the foundation work must be done at the legislative level.
Barabandi added, “we turned to the US Congress, and managed to convince two members, a Republican and a Democrat, to get broad support.”
Barabandi said that the bill was approved last year by the House of Representatives, but it was not taken to the Senate for approval due to the election season.
Wilson and Deutsch reintroduced the bill, which they named after Barabandi, who was the inspiration for the project, in appreciation for his great efforts in protecting human rights.
Barabandi told the Syrian Observer that the project was not specific to Syria, but rather an amendment to the Rewards for Justice Act that could be applied in more than one country around the world.
He believes that the law could be applied in Russia, Iran, Syria, North Korea, and other places and, if passed, will be similar to the famous Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
The US established the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program in 1984. It is administered by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Under this program, the Secretary of State may authorize rewards for information that leads to the arrest or conviction of anyone planning, assisting, or attempting to carry out international terrorist acts against US citizens or property, in addition to information that prevents such acts from occurring in the first place and that leads to identifying or locating a major terrorist leader or disrupts terrorist financing.
Since the launch of the program, the US has paid more than 150 million dollars in rewards to more than 100 people who provided information, sufficient to take legal action, that threw terrorists in prison or prevented acts of international terrorism around the world.
In his interview with The Syrian Observer, Barabandi said that the team that worked on the project benefited from the precedent the US administration set in dealing with the North Korean government.
In 1995, the US administration asked those with information about then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s evasion of US sanctions to share it with the US government. The administration was able to freeze a balance of 35 million dollars belonging to the late leader.
Barbandi expects that the law will be voted on soon and then transferred to the Senate, where it will be shared with President Joe Biden to sign it. Barbandi believes that President Biden will sign the bill because it aligns with his political direction as well as that of his Vice President, Kamala Harris.