OSLO, Norway — “Events in Syria have been a tragic reminder that there remains much work still to be done,” director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ahmet Uzumcu, told reporters in The Hague Friday, after it was announced that the organization won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
The OPCW won for its efforts to stop the chemical warfare that has haunted the world from Hitler’s gas chambers to the battlefields of Syria.
“Our hearts go out to the Syrian people who were recently victims of the horror of chemical weapons,” said Uzumcu, a Turkish national
“I truly hope that this award and the OPCW’s ongoing mission together with the United Nations in Syria will (help) efforts to achieve peace in that country and end the suffering of its people,” he added.
He said the $1.2 million prize money would be used “for the goals of the convention” — to eliminate chemical weapons.
“We were aware that our work silently but surely was contributing to peace in the world. The last few weeks have brought this to the fore. The entire international community has been made aware of our work,” Uzumcu was quoted by the Turkish daily Today’s Zaman as saying on Friday.
“It is difficult not to be overwhelmed by this honor. For over 16 years, the OPCW has done what was expected of us. We were always inspired by the true humanitarian spirit that imbues the Chemical Weapons Convention. A great honor has been bestowed on me and my colleagues, but without the support of other states this would not have been possible,” he added.
A Syrian official said Friday that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the global chemical watchdog underscores “the credibility” of the Damascus government and its intentions to destroy its toxic arsenal.
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.
“The conventions and the work of the OPCW have defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law,” the 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.”
The organization has 189 member states and Friday’s award comes just days before Syria officially joins, and even as OPCW inspectors are on a highly risky United Nations-backed disarmament mission based in Damascus to verify and destroy President Bashar Assad’s arsenal of poison gas and nerve agents amid a raging civil war.
By giving the award to the largely faceless international organization the Nobel committee found a way to highlight the Syria conflict, now in its third year, without siding with any group involved in the fighting.
UN war crimes investigators have accused both sides of wrongdoing, though they said earlier this year that the scale and intensity of rebel abuses hasn’t reached that of the regime.
In the past, 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 and have or are in the process of destroying them.
However, the committee noted that some countries have not observed their deadlines.
“This applies especially to the USA and Russia,” the committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said.
The OPCW 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.
And when — faced by the prospect of US military strikes — Assad admitted his chemical stockpile, his government quickly signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention and allowed OPCW inspectors into his country.
Syria is scheduled to formally become a member state of the organization on Monday.
The first inspection team arrived 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.
The peace prize was the last of the original Nobel Prizes to be announced for this year. The winners of the economics award, added in 1968, will be announced on Monday.