Chemical weapon watchdog wins Nobel Peace Prize

Winner is Hague-based OPCW, which is overseeing destruction of Syria's chemical arms

Syria chemical weapons inspectors collect samples following an alleged sarin gas attack that killed hundreds.
Mohamed Abdullah/Reuters

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal, won the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said the OPCW won the award "for its extensive efforts" to rid the world of such 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 committee's choice of the OPCW came as a surprise to many because the award had been widely expected to go to Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban for fighting for girls' right to education.

Yousafzai, 16, was awarded the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov human-rights prize on Thursday.

The OPCW, based in The Hague in the Netherlands, has about 500 staffers and an annual budget of under $100 million.

Set up in 1997 to eliminate chemical weapons worldwide, its mission gained critical importance this year after a sarin-gas strike in the suburbs of Damascus killed more than 1,400 people in August.

Washington blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the attack, a charge he denied, instead blaming rebels. Facing the threat of a U.S. military strike, eventually he agreed to destroy Syria's sizable chemical weapon program and allow in OPCW inspectors.

The $1.25 million Nobel Peace Prize will be presented in Oslo, Norway, on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will.

The OPCW, which has 189 member states, said that Syria was cooperating with efforts to get rid of its chemical weapons and that it could eliminate them by mid-2014, provided there is support from all sides in the country's two-and-a-half-year-old civil war.

Chemical weapon experts believe that Syria has roughly 1,000 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve gases, some stored as raw chemicals and some of it already loaded onto missiles and warheads.

Under a Russian-U.S. deal struck last month, Syria must render useless all production facilities and weapon-filling equipment by November, a process begun over the past several weeks.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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