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Chemical Weapons Watchdog Gets Nobel Peace Prize

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a watchdog group that is overseeing efforts in Syria to eliminate its chemical stockpile, has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The group, based in The Hague, Netherlands, was formed in 1997. "Since then the OPCW has, through inspections, destruction and by other means, sought the implementation of the convention. 189 states have acceded to the convention to date," the Nobel committee said.

"The conventions and the work of the OPCW have defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law," it said. "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 award came as a surprise to many people who thought it might go to 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani who was shot by the Taliban for defending the right of girls to get an education, in her native Swat Valley.

But NPR's Michele Kelemen tells Morning Edition that in recent years, the trend has been for the Peace Prize to "spotlight and help organizations." Last year, for instance, it went to the European Union for its six decades of contributions toward "peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe."

The Nobel committee has "focused on controlling nuclear weapons and doing away with weapons of mass destruction, like chemical weapons," Kelemen says.

"The OCPW is very much in the news right now and will need this kind of a boost," she adds.

The OPCW's director-general, Ahmet Uzumcu, told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK that the award was a recognition of 16 years of effort by the group, but that it's "also an acknowledgement of our staff's efforts, who are now deployed in Syria, who have been, in fact, making a very brave effort there to fulfill their mandate."

The Associated Press writes:

"Friday's award comes just days before Syria officially joins as the group's 190th member state. OPCW inspectors are already on a highly risky U.N.-backed disarmament mission based in Damascus to verify and destroy Syrian President Bashar Assad's arsenal of poison gas and nerve agents amid a raging civil war."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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