The reaction in Syria to the Nobel decision was polarised. A senior Syrian rebel called the award a “premature step” that will divert attention from “the real cause of the war”, while a ruling party lawmaker declared it to be a vindication of President Bashir al-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, it has largely worked out of the limelight until this year, when the UN called on it to 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.”
The award comes just days before Syria officially joins as the group’s 190th member state. OPCW inspectors are already on a highly risky UN-backed disarmament mission in Damascus to verify and destroy Assad’s arsenal of poison gas and nerve agents amid the civil war.
“Events in Syria have been a tragic reminder that there remains much work still to be done,” said OPCW director-general Ahmet Uzumcu. “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 $1.2m prize money would be used “for the goals of the convention” — to eliminate chemical weapons.
By giving the peace award to an international organisation, the Nobel committee found a way to highlight the Syrian civil war 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 the country, said the UN.
Louay Safi, a senior figure in Syria’s main opposition bloc, called the Nobel award “a premature step”.
“If this prize is seen as if the chemical weapons inspections in Syria will help foster peace... it’s a wrong perception,” said Safi.
Fayez Sayegh, a lawmaker and member of Assad’s ruling Ba’ath party, said the award underscores “the credibility” of the Damascus government. He said Syria is “giving an example to countries that have chemical and nuclear weapons”
The struggle to control chemical weapons began in earnest after the First World War, when agents such as mustard gas killed more than 100,000 people. The 1925 Geneva Convention prohibited the use of chemical weapons but their production or storage was not outlawed until the Chemical Weapons Convention came into force in 1997.
The OPCW says 57,740 metric tons, or 81.1%, of the world’s declared stockpile of chemical agents have been verifiably destroyed.
The OPCW did not figure prominently in this year’s Nobel speculation, which focused mostly on Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban last October for advocating education for girls.
“She is an outstanding woman and I think she has a bright future and she will probably be a nominee next year or the year after that,” Thorbjørn Jagland, the committee chairman, said.