Nobel Peace Prize rewards chemical watchdog's perseverance

10th December 2013, Comments 1 comment

The winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize is a body that spent years trying to rid the world of chemical weapons in relative obscurity before being thrust into the global limelight by the Syrian crisis.

From Russia to the United States, Iraq and Libya, inspectors from the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have been slowly but surely destroying the world's most dangerous chemical stockpiles.

Syria in September signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which the OPCW enforces, agreeing to hand over its chemical weapons for destruction under a Russia-US 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 three months ago and has so far won rare praise for its cooperation with OPCW and UN inspectors, who are already hard at work on the ground.

"The OPCW has done a lot of work over the years but most people have only heard of them because of what has happened in Syria," said Dan Kaszeta, a former officer in the US Army Chemical Corps who now runs a London-based consultancy in chemical defence issues.

"They have been labouring away in obscurity and have done a lot of hard work -- most of it really hard, technical stuff," he told AFP.

The most important impact of the Nobel Peace Prize was that it added "impetus and urgency and a certain moral authority" to the organisation's current mission in Syria, said OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan.

"To be known around the world now is quite a feeling. Suddenly our work has become glamorous," he said.

Years of dedicated work

The organisation began work in 1997 and has overseen the destruction of some 57,000 metric tonnes of chemical weapons, mostly US and Russian arsenals.

Luhan added that the OPCW was built on "the slow steady laying down of bricks over the weeks, months and years, people sitting in control rooms watching this stuff going into the chutes."

The OPCW's head, Turkish diplomat Ahmet Uzumcu, has been in the job since 2010, and was this week re-appointed to serve a second term as director general.

The diminutive former Turkish ambassador to NATO, the United Nations and Israel is a disarmament expert and fluent French and English speaker.

'Genie back into the bottle'

Chemical weapons were first used in combat in World War I.

Seventy years later they were used against civilians in Halabja, Iraq, with the 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 190 so-called States Parties, including nearly all industrialised 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.

Syria in September applied to join the Convention, which officially came into effect in the war-ravaged nation a month later.

Some 81 percent of world stocks of declared chemical agents have been destroyed under supervision, according to the organisation's website.

Asked how far the world has come in destroying chemical weapons, Malik Ellahi, special advisor to OPCW director Uzumcu said: I think the genie is almost back in the bottle, it's just the tail which is sticking out."

"We need to make that last ditch effort to put that tail together with the genie in the bottle."


© 2013 AFP

1 Comment To This Article

  • carrico posted:

    on 10th December 2013, 15:01:36 - Reply

    Bravo!