Nobel Peace Prize goes to Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
International agency is overseeing destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical-weapons stockpiles, has won the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.
The announcement was made Friday morning in Oslo.
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The OPCW is an independent international body formed in 1997 to implement a new global treaty prohibiting the production and stockpiling of chemical weapons.
"The conventions and the work of the OPCW have defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in its announcement.
"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 use of chemical weapons was banned under the 1925 Geneva Convention, but not their manufacture or storage. As a result, tens of thousands of tonnes of agents like sarin, mustard gas and VX were still in countries' arsenals into the 1990s.
The award committee said disarmament was a major goal for Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel when he created the Nobel Peace Prize in his will. Numerous prior Nobel awards have highlighted efforts at nuclear disarmament, the committee noted.
"By means of the present award to the OPCW, the committee is seeking to contribute to the elimination of chemical weapons," it said.
Nobel committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland stressed it was the organization's "longstanding efforts to eliminate chemical weapons," and not its recent work in Syria, that primarily motivated the award.
"We are now about to reach the goal — namely, to do away with a whole category of weapons of mass destruction," he said.
In a dig at Russia and the United States, the Nobel committee pointed out that neither country destroyed its stockpiles of chemical weapons by the April 2012 deadline specified in the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. Russia has set a timeframe of 2015 but may take until 2020, while the U.S. is aiming for 2023.
In a statement released shortly after the Nobel announcement Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon congratulated OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu and noted that the award came nearly 100 years after the first chemical attack and only 50 days after the "appalling use of chemical weapons" in Syria.
"Far from being a relic of the past, chemical weapons remain a clear and present danger," Ban said.
Uzumcu said Friday that events in Syria "have been a tragic reminder that there remains much work still to be done."
Hopeful for Syrian stockpile eradication
Based in the Netherlands, the OPCW has 189 member countries and 500 staff.
Teams of its personnel have deployed to Syria since Oct. 1 to begin the task of shutting down the country's chemical-weapons production facilities, which is supposed to take place by November. Following that, Damascus's stockpiles are to be dismantled.
Scott Cairns, a Canadian leading the organization's teams on the ground, told CBC News recently that ridding Syria of all its chemical weapons will be "very difficult."
"To do that in a permissive environment, or a country that's at peace, is extremely ambitious. To do that in a matter of months, or in a year, in a country that's in a full-blown war, borders on the unrealistic," he said.
But the OPCW says the task has been smooth so far and it anticipates it could complete the mission by the middle of next year, provided both sides in Syria's civil war co-operate.
The mission was triggered by increasingly devastating use of chemical weapons in the course of hostilities in Syria, culminating with an Aug. 21 gas attack in the Damascus area that left anywhere from 281 to 1,429 people dead.
The OPCW becomes the 22nd organization to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Previous organizations that have won include the Red Cross, the United Nations and, last year, the European Union.
Prominent figures nominated or favoured to win this year's peace prize included 16-year-old Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, whose outspoken advocacy of women's rights and education for girls triggered the homicidal wrath of the Taliban when she was shot in the head last year, and gynecologist Denis Mukwege, celebrated for helping thousands of women who were raped in war-torn Congo.
2013 Nobel prizes
there remains much work still to be done