OSLO, Norway (AP) — Recalling the “burning, blinding and suffocating” horrors of chemical weapons, the head of a watchdog trying to consign them to history accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on Tuesday, as prize winners in medicine, physics and other categories also took bows for their awards.
Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said such toxic tools of warfare have an “especially nefarious legacy,” from the trenches of World War I to the poison gas attacks in Syria this year.
“You cannot see them. You cannot smell them. And they offer no warning for the unsuspecting,” Uzumcu said as he collected the $1.2 million award in Oslo on behalf of the group.
“And we only need to look at the fate of the survivors of such attacks — people destined to spend the rest of their lives suffering unbearable physical and psychological pain — to understand why such weapons must be banned,” he added.
The OPCW was formed to enforce a 1997 international convention outlawing chemical weapons. It worked largely out of the limelight until this year, when it received its most challenging mission to date: overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
The Nobel Peace Prize was announced on Oct. 11, just days before Syria officially joined the OPCW as its 190th member state.
“It is of course a huge challenge for the OPCW to manage to destroy all these weapons under the conditions of war and chaos prevailing in the country,” Nobel committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland said. “The anonymous inspectors from the OPCW do an extremely important and difficult job.”
Both Jagland and Uzumcu paid tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with F.W. de Klerk in 1993. Mandela was also honored at the separate ceremony for other Nobel Prizes in Stockholm later Tuesday.
Jagland called on the US and Russia to speed up the elimination of their own stockpiles and urged the six countries that have not signed or ratified the chemical weapons convention — Angola, North Korea, Egypt, South Sudan, Israel and Myanmar — to do so.
When the prize was announced, some in Syria lamented that it would do nothing to end the bloodshed inflicted with conventional weapons, a point that Jagland recognized in his speech.
An Aug. 21 poison gas attack killed hundreds of people in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, while tens of thousands have been killed by conventional arms in fighting between President Bashar Assad’s forces and opposition fighters since the conflict began in March 2011.
“On the road to a more peaceful world, however, it is nevertheless important to combat the most monstrous weapons first, the weapons of mass destruction,” Jagland said.
The Nobel awards in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics were presented later Tuesday by Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf in Stockholm’s Concert Hall.
Literature laureate Alice Munro, 82, was too frail to travel to the Swedish capital so the Canadian short-story writer’s daughter, Jenny Munro, accepted the award in her place.
“Over the years, numerous scientists have received their well-deserved reward in this auditorium for having solved some of the great enigmas of the universe,” Swedish Academy permanent secretary Peter Englund said. “But, you, Alice Munro, like few others, have come close to solving the greatest mystery of them all: the human heart and its caprices.”
Their families cheering as they bowed three times in line with Nobel protocol, Britain’s Peter Higgs and Francois Englert of Belgium received the physics prize for their theories on the Higgs particle, which helps explain how subatomic particles get their mass.
US-based scientists Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel shared the chemistry award for developing powerful computer models used to predict chemical reactions.
Americans James Rothman and Randy Schekman and German-American Dr. Thomas Sudhof collected the medicine prize for their breakthroughs in explaining how the transport system in our cells works.
The economics award, which is not an original Nobel Prize but created in Nobel’s honor by Sweden’s central bank in 1968, was given to Americans Eugene Fama, Lars Peter Hansen and Robert Shiller for their methods on studying trends in asset markets.
Police said they detained four naked men who tried to slip through the cordons outside the Concert Hall. Police spokeswoman Tove Hagg said they were suspected of disorderly conduct and trespassing.
Before the ceremony, a group of Chinese writers and artists said they would “run in the nude” to remind the world that 2010 peace prize winner, Chinese dissent Liu Xiaobo, is still in prison. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the detained men were part of that group.
The award ceremonies are always held on Dec. 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press