The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for working to eliminate the scourge that has haunted generations from World War I to the battlefields of Syria. Based in The Hague, Netherlands, the OPCW was formed in 1997 to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention, the first international treaty to outlaw an entire class of weapons. It had largely worked out of the limelight until this year, when the United Nations called on its expertise to help investigate alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
“The conventions and the work of the OPCW have defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law,” the Nobel committee said. “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.” Friday’s award comes just days before Syria officially joins as the group’s 190th member state. OPCW inspectors are already on a highly risky UN-backed disarmament mission based in Damascus to verify and destroy Syrian President Bashar Assad’s arsenal of poison gas and nerve agents amid a raging civil war.
The OPCW’s director-general, Ahmet Uzumcu, said the award was a recognition of the group’s work for global peace in the past 16 years. “But (it’s) also an acknowledgement of our staff’s efforts, who are now deployed in Syria, who have been, in fact, making a very brave effort there to fulfill their mandate,” he said.
By giving the award to the largely faceless international organisation, the Nobel committee found a way to highlight the devastating Syrian civil war, now in its third year, without siding with any group involved. The fighting has killed an estimated 1,00,000 people and forced millions of Syrians to flee their homes, according to the UN. The committee noted that some countries have not observed their deadlines of destroying their stockpiles of chemical weapons.
“This applies especially to the USA and Russia,” committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said. The first OPCW inspection team arrived in Syria last week, followed by a second this week and they have already begun to oversee the first stages of destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons.
Nobel to OPCW: Are you out there?
When the Nobel Peace Prize committee couldn’t reach the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons by phone, it turned to a newer means of communication: Twitter. The committee tweeted twice on Friday morning, first with a message to OPCW to contact its office and then with a general that effectively said, "Are you out there?"