The OPCW at a glance

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its work to rid the world of chemical arms. Here's a look at the OPCW and the work it has been doing over the past 15 years.

Chemical weapons watchdog organization wins 2013 Nobel Peace Prize

Chemical weapons experts take samples from one of the sites of a chemical weapons attack in Damascus in August. A UN Security Council resolution the next month established a timeline for the dismantling and destruction of all of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles and production facilities. (Mohamed Abdullah/Reuters)

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its work to rid the world of chemical arms. Here's a look at the OPCW and the work it has been doing over the past 15 years:

Where did the OPCW come from?

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was thrust into the spotlight in recent weeks when it was required to oversee the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria, but it has been working since the 1990s as the body that implements the Chemical Weapons Convention, the first international treaty to outlaw an entire class of weapons.

What does the treaty do and who is a member?

The convention prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons. It came into force in 1997 and has been ratified by 189 states. Of those, seven — Albania, India, Iraq, Libya, Russia and the United States, along with a country identified by the OPCW only as "a state party" but widely believed to be South Korea — have declared stockpiles of chemical weapons. These include mustard gas and nerve agents like sarin and VX.

Syria is due to become a member state of the organization on Monday and has acknowledged having chemical weapons. Non-signatories to the treaty include North Korea, Angola, Egypt and South Sudan. Israel and Myanmar have signed but not ratified the convention.

What does the OPCW do? 

The OPCW has conducted more than 5,000 inspections in 86 countries. It says 100 per cent of the declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been inventoried and verified.

OPCW director general Ahmet Uzumcu. (Peter Dejong/Associated Press)

According to its statistics, 57,740 tonnes, or 81.1 per cent, of the world's declared stockpile of chemical agents have been verifiably destroyed. Albania, India and "a third country" — again believed to be South Korea — have completed destruction of their declared stockpiles. An OPCW report released earlier this year said the United States had destroyed about 90 per cent of its stockpile, Russia had destroyed 70 per cent and Libya 51 per cent.

Thirteen OPCW members have also declared a total of 70 chemical weapons production facilities. The organization says all 70 have been taken out of commission including 43 destroyed altogether and 21 converted to peaceful purposes.

Who runs the OPCW

The OPCW is funded by its member states and had a budget of more than $100 million in 2011. It employs 500 people in The Hague. The director general is Turkish diplomat Ahmet Uzumcu.

What did it win for?

Behind-the-scenes work in identifying whether all 189 member countries adhere fully to the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention. That treaty outlaws the production or use of chemical weapons; authorizes OPCW staff to decommission chemical-weapons production plants; and gives them power to inspect a country's industrial sites suspected of involvement in such production.

Why now?

Because the OPCW is at the centre of global efforts to keep Syria's 2½-year-old civil war from worsening into a deeper international conflict. Syria's government last month signed the chemical weapons treaty under pressure from Russian diplomats and the threat of U.S. air strikes. An OPCW inspection team is currently deployed in Syria documenting its chemical weapons supplies and planning their destruction, a mission expected to take nine months.


The Nobel honour puts a spotlight on an organization that typically attracts no public attention from its headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands. It could strengthen the OPCW's hand in seeking additional financing and powers, and could encourage the few nations still boycotting the treaty to join the club.


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