Last Friday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize of 2013 "for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons".
Chemical weapons have been used since the early existance of mankind. There are many documented examples of the use of chemical weapons by our ancestors. The use of chemical weapons has been prohibited by international law since the entry into force of the The Hague Convention of 1899 (Article 23). The Geneva Protocol of 1925 also prohibited the use of chemical weapons but not the production or storage of chemical weapons. The latest important instrument against chemical weapons is the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) which prohibited also the production and the storage of chemical weapons.
The OPCW is an intergovernmental organization which was created in 1997 to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention. The OPCW has as its mission to dismantle all chemical weapons arsenals and to monitor and prevent the use of chemical substances as a means of warfare.
On 21 August a poison-gas attack in Damascus, Syria, killed hundreds of people. This led to actions by the United Nations in order to ensure disarmament of Syria's chemical weapons. The United Nations Security Council directed the OPCW to assist Syria in destroying all of its chemical weapons in the coming nine months. On Friday 27 September 2013 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2118 (2013) This resolution recalled United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1540, 2042 and 2043. According to UNSC /RES/2118 (2013), Syria has to dismantle its chemical weapons arsenal before 30 June 2014. The Resolution also outlines plans for a "transitional governing body".
On Monday 30 September 2013 a team of OPCW engineers, chemists and paramedics left for Syria to destroy large chemical-weapons arsenals that have been used during the civil war in Syria that has been going on for the past two and a half years. According to OPCW spokesman Michael Luthan "this is definitely a historical first". For the first time since its creation, the OPCW envisages to go into a country which is still in a state of conflict to "oversee the destruction of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction, which it possesses". It is believed that Syria possesses mustard gas, sarin and VX nerve agents.
On Monday 14 October 2013, the Syrian Arab Republic became a State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Syria is the 190th State Party to the treaty. Only Angola, Burma, Egypt, Israel,North Korea and South Sudan have not yet become a State Party to the Convention.
Before its mission in Syria, the OPCW largely acted in the shadows. The OPCW has done its dangerous work quietly and effectively. Since its creation in 1997, the OPCW has eliminated 80% of the world's chemical weapons stockpiles. For example, it has destroyed chemical weapons in Albania, India and South Korea. The OPCW has dismantled almost all of the chemical weapons in Libya and the USA. Also has the OPCW removed two-thirds of Russia's arsenal of chemical weapons. The OPCW also is working on the destruction of the chemical weapons used by the Japanese in China during the Second World War.
The work of the OPCW to dismantle chemical weapons could be considered as one of the biggest achievements in the field of disarmament.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee stated that the conventions and the work of the OPCW have defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law. The situation in Syria "underlined the need to enhance the efforts to do away with such weapons". It reminds us that there is a strong need to continue with the work of the OPCW to further destroy chemical weapons and ensure that the states who are not yet a member of the CWC will join as a State Party soon. Another issue is that certain states, especially the USA and Russia, have not met the deadline for destroying their chemical weapons on April 12 2012. By means of awarding the OPCW with the Nobel Peace Prize, the Committee seeks to "contribute to the elimination of chemical weapons".
Bustani, the former director general to the OPCW and now the Brazilian ambassador in Paris, said to the Guardian that the Nobel prize "is completely deserved and comes at long last after years of work," He only regretted "not to have done more sooner. If we had been allowed to persuade Iraq to join, we would have avoided a war and might have been able to persuade Egypt and Syria to join then. But this is an important moment for the international community."
A selection of relevant publications from the Peace Palace Library collection
- Cooperation between the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations, The Hague, OPCW, 2013.