Ahmet Üzümcü of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons formally accepted the Nobel Peace Prize “with great humility” in Oslo on Tuesday, on behalf of the organization. He said the prize recognized the combined efforts of a “collective spirit” in OPCW and its member states that’s striving to “serve all humanity.”
“I feel deeply privileged to be able to address you on this occasion,” Üzümcü said as he launched into his lengthy, sometimes graphic, lecture about the horrors of chemical weapons. He vowed that the campaign to eliminate them would continue, and that the OPCW’s prize winnings of around SEK 8 million (more than USD 1 million) would be used to fund annual OPCW awards. The new awards, he said, “will recognize outstanding contributions to advancing the goals” of the chemical weapon disarmament convention that OPCW is charged with enforcing.
Üzümcü noted that the Nobel Committee “has a long history of honouring achievement in disarmament,” yet this was the first time the Peace Prize had been awarded to an organization actively engaged in disarmament “as a practical and ongoing reality.” He said there could be “no doubt” about the value of all work done to carry out the mandate of the international convention that bans production, storage and use of chemical weapons.
“Our task is to consign chemical weapons to history, forever,” Üzümcü said. He allowed his group some self-congratulation, noting that he and his colleagues and predecessors had been carrying out the task “with quiet determination, and no small measure of success.”
He devoted much of his acceptance speech, however, to the victims of chemical weapons, describing in restrained yet graphic detail what chemical weapons can do to people. From the battlefields of Flanders nearly a century ago to the tragic attacks in Syria earlier this year, Üzümcü stressed how the effects of such weapons are devastating, “burning, blinding or suffocating their victims.” Death, he said, “is rarely instant and never painless.”
Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland, stressed now the prize to the OPCW was “well-deserved” and in line with the terms of prize benefactor Alfred Nobel’s will. Jagland opened Tuesday’s ceremony in the Oslo City Hall with a tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, who had received the same prize in the same room exactly 20 years ago to the day. Jagland claimed that elimination of chemical weapons “can be achieved,” just as Mandela’s work towards the elimination of apartheid was achieved two decades ago.
Jagland also scolded both the US and Russia for not yet eliminating all of their chemical weapons, while urging the last few countries who have not signed on to the international convention that OPCW is attempting to carry out do so immediately.