Events in Syria underlined the need to do away with such weapons, says Nobel committee

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2013 has been awarded to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons”.

The Hague-based autonomous body, which works within the framework of the United Nations, was established in 1997 by the Chemical Weapons Convention to carry out its mandate. It has been at the centre of the Syrian theatre of war, carrying out its mandate to dismantle the chemical weapon stockpiles of Syria. It has gained credibility for its role in enforcing the peace option in Syria through its technical expertise, but no less for the courage of its team that is working in a dangerous war zone with quiet and dogged determination.

“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 Nobel Committee statement notes. “Some states are still not members of the OPCW. Certain states have not observed the deadline, which was April 2012, for destroying their chemical weapons. This applies especially to the USA and Russia.”

The Nobel Committee said that by conferring the award on the OPCW it was upholding Alfred Nobel’s vision of disarmament.

Ahmet Uzumcu, the Director General of OPCW, called the award a “great honour” and a motivation to realise its mandate. There are 189 member states in OPCW. It claims that its mandate effectively covers 98 per cent of the world’s population.

Criticism

Despite its claims of being independent, the Nobel Peace prize has over the years attracted criticism as politically driven. Its choice of the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobao in 2010 and Barack Obama in 2009 are cited as examples of its pro-West tilt. The Nobel Committee keeps the nomination list secret for 50 years.

However, the front-runners are usually known as the people or organisations who have nominated them speak out. This year the favourite was Malala Yousufzai, the 16-year-old education and peace campaigner from Pakistan who despite being grievously injured by the Taliban for her outspoken advocacy of education for girls, continues to spread her message around the world. Also in the running was the courageous doctor from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Denis Mukwege, who has treated thousands of women who faced rape and torture during the civil war. Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Svetlana Gannushkina and Lilya Shibanova, Russian human rights activists are believed to have been on the nomination list, as was Claudia Paz y Paz, the first woman Attorney-General in Guatemala and a human rights campaigner.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is also believed to have been nominated by an advocacy group in his country, for his contribution in crafting the diplomatic initiative that prevented armed international intervention in Syria. Also nominated for their role in strengthening peace by uncovering the mass surveillance programmes of the United States and Britain, and the disclosure of secret war documents were the whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning).

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded 94 times to 125 Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2013, 100 individuals and 25 organisations. Last year the prize was won by the European Union and the year previous to that by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman for their work on women’s rights.

Correction

In the first paragraph of "OPCW is upholding Nobel's vision" (Oct. 12, 2013, International page), the full form of OPCW was given as the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons. It should have been Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

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