Anti-chemical-weapons watchdog accepts 2013 Nobel Peace Prize

Watchdog receives peace prize and its leader recalls 'nefarious legacy' of warfare's toxic tools

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 10:36pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 December, 2013, 1:01am


Recalling the "burning, blinding and suffocating" horrors of chemical weapons, the head of a watchdog group trying to consign them to history accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. Fellow winners in medicine, physics and other categories also took bows for their awards.

Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said such toxic tools of warfare have an "especially nefarious legacy", from the trenches of the first world war to the poison gas attacks in Syria this year.

"You cannot see them. You cannot smell them. And they offer no warning for the unsuspecting," Uzumcu said on Tuesday as he also collected the US$1.2 million award in Oslo on behalf of the group.

"And we only need to look at the fate of the survivors of such attacks - people destined to spend the rest of their lives suffering unbearable physical and psychological pain - to understand why such weapons must be banned," he added.

The watchdog was formed to enforce a 1997 international convention outlawing chemical weapons. It worked largely out of the limelight until this year, when it received its most challenging mission to date: overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile.

The Nobel Peace Prize was announced on October 11, just days before Syria officially joined the OPCW as its 190th member state.

"It is, of course, a huge challenge for the OPCW to manage to destroy all these weapons under the conditions of war and chaos prevailing in the country," Nobel committee chairman, Thorbjorn Jagland, said. "The anonymous inspectors from the OPCW do an extremely important and difficult job."

When the prize was announced, some in Syria lamented that it would do nothing to end the bloodshed inflicted with conventional weapons, a point that Jagland recognised in his speech.

"On the road to a more peaceful world, however, it is nevertheless important to combat the most monstrous weapons first, the weapons of mass destruction," Jagland said.

Police detained four naked men who tried to slip through the cordons outside the Concert Hall in Stockholm, Sweden, where awards in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics were presented. Police spokeswoman Tove Hagg said the men were suspected of disorderly conduct and trespassing.

Before the ceremony, a group of Chinese writers and artists said they would "run in the nude" to remind the world that 2010 peace prize winner, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo , is still in prison. It wasn't immediately clear whether the detained men were part of that group.

Literature laureate Alice Munro, 82, was too frail to travel to the Swedish capital so the Canadian short-story writer's daughter, Jenny Munro, accepted the award in her place.

Their families cheering as they bowed three times in line with Nobel protocol, Britain's Peter Higgs and Francois Englert, of Belgium, received the physics prize for their theories on the Higgs particle, which helps explain how subatomic particles get their mass.