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[Newsmaker] Nobel Prize rewards watchdog’s perseverance

A photo taken in The Hague shows United Nations inspectors arriving in a van at the headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. (AFP-Yonhap News)
A photo taken in The Hague shows United Nations inspectors arriving in a van at the headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. (AFP-Yonhap News)
The winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize is a body that has spent years trying to rid the world of chemical weapons in relative obscurity and was recently thrust into the limelight by the Syrian crisis.

From Russia to the U.S., Iraq and Libya, inspectors from the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, have been slowly but surely destroying the world’s most dangerous chemical stockpiles.

Syria last month signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which the OPCW enforces, agreeing to hand over its chemical weapons for destruction under a Russia-U.S. plan aimed at averting military strikes on the country in the wake of a devastating chemical attack on a Damascus suburb.

Previously one of only five countries not to have signed the global treaty, Syria accepted the Russian proposal last month and has so far won rare praise for its cooperation with OPCW inspectors, who are already hard at work on the ground.

The organization began work in 1997 and has overseen the destruction of some 57,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, mostly U.S. and Russian arsenals.

The OPCW’s head, Turkish diplomat and disarmament expert Ahmet Uzumcu, has been in the job since 2010, and will serve until next year.

Chemical weapons were first used in combat in World War I, and again in 1988 against civilians in Halabja, Iraq, with Chemical Weapons Convention finally drawn up in 1993 in Paris.

The CWC entered into force on April 29, 1997, and the OPCW began its work on the edge of a quiet upmarket leafy suburb in The Hague shortly afterwards.

The Convention was the result of almost 20 years of negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, and initially aimed to eliminate all the world’s chemical weapons by 2007.

It was preceded by the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which banned the use of chemical weapons following widespread use in World War I, but not their development under a “no first use” notion.

The OPCW currently has 189 so-called States Parties, including nearly all industrialized nations and more than 98 percent of the world population.

Israel and Myanmar have signed the Convention but not ratified it, while Angola, Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan have done neither. (AFP)
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