October 11, 2013

Global chemical watchdog wins Nobel Peace Prize

By giving the award to the largely faceless international organization the Nobel committee found a way to highlight the Syria conflict without siding with any group involved in the fighting.

By Karl Ritter And Mark Lewis
The Associated Press

OSLO, Norway — The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons 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.

click image to enlarge

In this Aug. 31, 2013, file photo released by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, samples brought back by the U.N. chemical weapons inspection team are checked in upon their arrival at The Hague, Netherlands. The Nobel Committee honored the global chemical watchdog “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.”

The Associated Press

The reaction in Syria to the Nobel decision was notably polarized. A senior Syrian rebel called the award a “premature step” that will divert the world’s attention from “the real cause of the war” while a ruling party lawmaker declared it to be a vindication of President Bashir Assad’s government.

The OPCW was formed in 1997 to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention, the first international treaty to outlaw an entire class of weapons. Based in The Hague, Netherlands, it has 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 Norwegian Nobel Committee said in Oslo. “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 U.N.-backed disarmament mission based in Damascus to verify and destroy the government’s arsenal of poison gas and nerve agents amid a raging civil war.

“Events in Syria have been a tragic reminder that there remains much work still to be done,” OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu (AKH’-meht ooh-ZOOM’-joo) told reporters in The Hague. “Our hearts go out to the Syrian people who were recently victims of the horror of chemical weapons.”

“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 said.

He said the $1.2 million prize money would be used “for the goals of the convention” – to eliminate chemical weapons.

By giving the peace award to an international organization, 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 more than 100,000 people, devastated many cities and towns and forced millions of Syrians to flee their homes and country, according to the U.N.

U.N. war crimes investigators have accused both Assad’s government and the rebels of wrongdoing, although they say the scale and intensity of the rebel abuses hasn’t reached that of the regime.

Louay Safi, a senior figure in Syria’s main opposition bloc, called the Nobel award “a premature step.”

“If this price is seen as if the chemical weapons inspections in Syria will help foster peace in Syria and in the region, it’s a wrong perception,” Safi told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Qatar.

Fayez Sayegh, a lawmaker and member of Assad’s ruling Baath party, told the AP the award underscores “the credibility” of the Damascus government. He said Syria is “giving an example to countries that have chemical and nuclear weapons.”

In the past, seven nations – 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 the deadline of April 2012 for destroying their chemical weapons. That applies especially to the U.S. and Russia, said Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland.

(Continued on page 2)

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