Chemical weapons watchdog wins Nobel Peace Prize
12 October, 2013
OSLO: The watchdog now overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal won the Nobel Peace Prize Friday for its efforts to rid the world of the devastating weapons.
In a surprise choice, the Nobel committee honoured the UN-backed Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for "its extensive efforts" in banishing the scourge of chemical arms. "Recent events in Syria, where chemical weapons have again been put to use, have underlined the need to enhance the efforts to do away with such weapons," the Norwegian jury said in its statement.
A team of around 30 OPCW arms experts and UN logistics and security personnel are on the ground in Syria and have started to destroy weapons production facilities. The jury directly criticised the United States and Russia for failing to destroy their chemical weapons by April 2012, as required by the Chemical Weapons Convention. "Certain states have not observed the deadline," the jury said. "This applies especially to the USA and Russia." OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu told reporters in The Hague, the seat of the organisation, that the prize could help boost his group's efforts.
"I hope this prize will give new impetus in the future," he said. "Syria remains a great challenge to the organisation." The OPCW was not considered among the front-runners for the prize until the eve of the announcement. Teenage Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege had been among the favourites for this year's prize. This marks the second consecutive year an organisation has won the prestigious award. Last year's award went to the European Union.
The OPCW was founded in 1997 to implement the Chemical Weapons Convention signed on January 13, 1993. The convention is "one of the most successful non-proliferation agreements in history," said Karl Dewey, a London-based expert with defence consultancy IHS Jane's. "It has near-universal coverage and the OPCW, the body that oversees compliance, has helped shape the international norms on the non-use of chemical weapons," he said. Swedish chemical weapons expert Aake Sellstroem, head of UN weapons inspections in Syria, welcomed the attention given to chemical weapons with the Nobel Prize.
"Later on, once we have got rid of all chemical weapons, it's time to tackle nuclear weapons," he told Swedish news agency TT. Until recently operating in relative obscurity, the OPCW has suddenly been catapulted into the global spotlight because of its work supervising the dismantling of Syria's chemical arsenal and facilities. This has to be completed by mid-2014 under the terms of a UN Security Council resolution. "I'm proud of him and the organisation," said the wife of one of the OPCW inspectors currently in Damascus.
"I guess it's a time for celebration but he's in Damascus so it's not easy to celebrate," she told AFP in The Hague, asking not to be named. The OPCW said on Tuesday it was sending a second wave of inspectors to bolster the disarmament mission in the war-ravaged nation. Since the OPCW came into existence 16 years ago, it has destroyed 57,000 tonnes of chemical weapons, the majority of them leftovers from the Cold War between the United States and Russia.