Nobel peace prize won by chemical weapons watchdog for work in Syria

OPCW’s award recognises watchdog’s ongoing
efforts in Syria as well as 16 years of previous work.

Peter Walker
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical
Weapons (OPCW) has become the surprise choice
for this year’s Nobel peace prize, a decision the
Oslo committee said recognised both its current,
hazardous mission to destroy Syria’s chemical
weapons stocks and 16 years of wider global
efforts.
The international chemical weapons watchdog, a
relatively new global body, set up in 1997 in The
Hague, with a relatively tiny annual budget of
around £60m, trumped the established
bookmakers’ favourites of Malala Yousafzai, the
Pakistani schoolgirl turned advocate for female
education , and Denis Mukwege, the Congolese
gynaecologist who has helped huge numbers of
rape victims.
The announcement by the chairman of the Nobel
committee, Thorbjørn Jagland, at 11am Oslo time
(10am BST) was, nonetheless, not especially tense
given that Norwegian state TV had reported the
OPCW’s success more than an hour beforehand.
The OPCW, which has 500 staff, is the 25th
institution among the 94 winners in the prize’s
history, and the second in succession, after the
controversial choice of the EU in 2012. When news
of its win leaked there was initial scepticism, with
some Middle East analysts warning it was
premature to honour the OPCW just a matter of
weeks into its mission to assess and destroy Syria’s
chemical weapons stocks. The mission – which has
already seen OPCW inspectors come under sniper
fire – was agreed as a means to avoid US-led
military action against Syria following a gas attack
blamed on forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad in
August which killed more than 1,400 people.
However, the Nobel committee’s citation said the
prize was a more general one, to mark “its
extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons”
and nudge the few remaining nations that had not
yet signed up to the organisation. The work of the
OPCW, which has 189 member states, had “defined
the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under
international law”, the committee said, adding that
events in Syria had “underlined the need to
enhance the efforts to do away with such
weapons”.
It concluded: “Disarmament figures prominently in
Alfred Nobel’s will. The Norwegian Nobel
committee has through numerous prizes
underlined the need to do away with nuclear
weapons. By means of the present award to the
OPCW, the committee is seeking to contribute to
the elimination of chemical weapons.”
Addressing reporters, Jagland said the award was a
reminder to nations with remaining chemical
weapons, such as the US and Russia, to get rid of
them, “especially because they are demanding that
others do the same, like Syria”. He added: “We now
have the opportunity to get rid of an entire
category of weapons of mass destruction … That
would be a great event in history if we could
achieve that.”
In a echo of the impossibility this week of tracking
down the winners of the prizes for physics and
literature, Peter Higgs and Alice Monro, the Nobel
committee tweeted that it had been unable to
immediately speak to the OPCW to formally let it
know of the win.
@OPCW please contact us @Nobleprize_org we are trying get through to your office.
At a later press conference in The Hague, the
OPCW’s director general, Ahmet Üzümcü, a Turkish
former diplomat, said events in Syria had acted as
a “tragic reminder” of the necessity of its work. The
organisation’s “hearts go out to the Syrian people
who were victims” of the August attack, he added.
The £780,000 prize would be spent furthering the
organisation’s work, he added.
While the decision disappointed some, particularly
those trumpeting the charismatic claims of
Yousafzai, the decision marks something of a
return to the tradition of honouring work directly
connected to disarmament, after the EU in 2012
and the even more controversial prize to Barack
Obama in 2009.
The OPCW was set up to implement the 1992
global chemical weapons convention. It says it has
managed to oversee the destruction of more than
80% of the world’s declared stocks of chemical
weapons, excluding those now declared in Syria.
The US and Russia had committed to destroying
their arsenals by 2012 but have as yet failed to do
so.
Under a Russian-US deal struck last month, Syria
must render useless all production facilities and
weapons-filling equipment by November, a process
begun over the past several weeks.

source : guardian

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