OSLO – The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was awarded the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, just weeks after a deadly gas attack in Syria sparked international condemnation.
The intergovernmental watchdog, which has 189 member states, has implemented the Chemical Weapons Convention since it came into force in 1997, and bans the development, production, stockpiling and use of such arms.
“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, where it awarded the 8 million krona ($1.2 million) prize. “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 OPCW, based in The Hague, is working in Syria to oversee the destruction of chemical weapons and make all production facilities and equipment in the war-torn country unusable by Nov 1. The group moved in after the U.N. Security Council resolved last month to rid the country of such weapons after a gas attack in August near Damascus that the U.S. said killed more than 1,400 people, including children.
Sarin, the gas used in that attack, works by lowering the human body’s ability to regulate nerve impulses, according to the Federation of American Scientists. Victims suffer convulsions, lose control of their body and become comatose if exposed to a large enough amount.
The Nobel Prize, along with literature, physics, medicine and chemistry honors, was created by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel and first awarded in 1901. Past peace laureates include the European Union, which won last year, as well as U.S. President Barack Obama, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry commended Syrian leader Bashar Assad this month for taking the first steps toward the destruction of his arsenal of chemical weapons. Following the Aug. 21 poison gas attack near Damascus, Russia and the U.S. were able to find common ground over the conflict, brokering a deal that required Syria to account for and destroy its chemical weapons.
Nonmembers of the OPCW include Israel and Myanmar, which have yet to ratify the convention, and Angola, Egypt, North Korea, South Sudan and Syria, which have “neither signed nor acceded” to the convention.
The convention demands that member states commit to enforcing prohibition within their jurisdiction, declare and destroy any stockpiles of chemical weapons they may hold and any facilities that produced them. The OPCW said in June that almost 80 percent of all declared chemical weapons have been destroyed under international verification by the group.
The use of chlorine gas by German forces at Ypres, Belgium, in 1915 led to the development of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, the first international agreement to ban the use of chemical weapons. Still, the pact did not stop countries from developing, producing or possessing such weapons, or from using them in retaliation.
The history of preventing the use of chemical weapons goes all the way back to 1675, when France and Germany signed an agreement to end the use of poison bullets, the OPCW says.