Disarmament group wins Peace Prize

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UPDATED: After several years of awarding Nobel Peace Prizes that have stirred massive controversy, the Norwegian Nobel Committee this year selected a winner that may silence the critics. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was awarded the prize “for its extensive work” towards eliminating chemical weapons, and later reported that it felt “honoured and encouraged.”

Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland noted that “recent events in Syria have underlined the need to enhance efforts” to eliminate such weapons. He stressed, though, that the committee had considered the OPCW as a top candidate since last spring, long before Syria was accused of using chemical weapons on its own people.

‘Contribution’ to weapon destruction
The OPCW, based in The Hague in the Netherlands (external link), is an intergovernmental organization that seeks to enforce an international convention banning the use, production and storage of chemical weapons. The Chemical Weapons Convention requires the destruction of chemical weapons, but many countries including, Jagland noted, the US and Russia, have not yet complied.

By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the OPCW, Jagland said the committee was seeking “to contribute” to its efforts to rid the world of chemical weapons, as well as recognize the group for its work so far.

Winner hard to contact, but ‘honoured’
The board of OPCW was tied up in a meeting when the prize was announced late Friday morning, and not even the Norwegian Nobel Committee managed to get hold of its officials on the phone. An hour after the decision was announced, the committee resorted to sending a message via Twitter, asking the OPCW to “please contact us … we are trying to get through to your office.”

The award message eventually got through, and OPCW’s director general Ahmet Üzümcü later told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that “we are honoured to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. I see it as a recognition of the work of the OPCW.”

Üzümcü, a Turkish career diplomat who has served as consul in Aleppo in Syria and as an ambassador in Israel, said he also views the prize as a recognition “of our employees who are now working in Syria. I’m certain it will encourage our employees to keep contributing to peace.”

Relevant for Norway
The prize has particular relevance for Norway, which recently was asked by both US and Russia to take in and destroy chemical weapons seized under a UN operation in Syria. Jagland stressed, however, that the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to award the prize to OPCW was also made before the request was lodged, adding that the committee had “no opinion” on how the Norwegian government should respond to the request.

He also stressed that the committee operates independently of the Norwegian government, even though its composition is, under the terms of Alfred Nobel’s will, supposed to reflect the political make-up of the Norwegian Parliament. Jagland is himself a former Norwegian prime minister for the Labour Party.

Following Nobel’s will
Jagland was also careful to note that disarmament figures prominently in Nobel’s will as a key factor in awarding the Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has often been criticized for straying too far from the terms of Nobel’s will in some of its earlier choices, but the OPCW would seemingly satisfy critics who believe disarmament has been overlooked.

Jagland had earlier said that this year’s winner was “an easy choice” for the Norwegian Nobel Committee, but it did not figure in speculation among the hottest candidates including Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban for her efforts to ensure education for girls. Jagland had contributed to the speculation, when he told newspaper Aftenposten last week that age is not a consideration in Peace Prize deliberations.

The OPCW did ultimately emerge, though, as a hot candidate after Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) suddenly reported it as top contender on the eve of Friday’s announcement. By Friday morning, NRK was reporting that OPCW would be the winner, before the announcement was made.

The prize will be formally awarded, as always, in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund