Ban lauds awarding of Nobel Peace Prize to international chemical watchdog

OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü addresses the media on 11 October 2013 on the occasion of the organisation's winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. Photo: OPCW

11 October 2013 – Hailing its work on disarmament and non-proliferation, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today congratulated the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for being awarded the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.

“From the battlefields to the laboratories to the negotiating table, the United Nations is honoured to work hand-in-hand with the OPCW to eliminate the threat posed by chemical weapons for all people and for all time,” Mr. Ban said.

“The OPCW has greatly strengthened the rule of law in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation. Thanks in large measure to its efforts, 80 per cent of the declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been destroyed. I strongly believe this success can inspire other parts of the global disarmament machinery to live up to the expectations of the international community.”

Mr. Ban stressed that while the OPCW is being recognized nearly 100 years after the first chemical attack, chemical weapons remain a “clear and present danger,” as shown by the crisis in Syria, where an advance team for the UN-OPCW joint mission is overseeing the destruction of the country’s chemical stockpiles.

His remarks came ahead of the Security Council’s decision later in the day to formally approve a first-of-its-kind OPCW-UN Joint Mission in Syria following the landmark work carried out by the UN Chemical Weapons Investigation Mission.

“The OPCW has a specific task – to eliminate chemical weapons and prevent them from ever re-emerging. But it also has a broad mission – to prove that the inhumanity of war can give rise to the humanity of solidarity and international cooperation,” he said.

Mr. Ban also underlined that progress must be complemented by efforts to gain universal adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and he urged all countries to sign, ratify and implement it without delay.

In a statement issued earlier, OPCW’s Director-General, Ahmet Üzümcü, said the award will only spur the organisation’s efforts, commitment and dedication.

“For over 16 years we have done what was expected of us. But we were always inspired by the true humanitarian spirit that imbues the Chemical Weapons Convention. We were aware that our work silently but surely was contributing to peace in the world.” Mr. Üzümcü said.

“A great honour has been bestowed on me and my colleagues. But without the support of the States Parties this would not have been possible.”

In an interview with UN Radio, OPCW spokesperson Michael Luhan said the agency’s staff are reacting to the news with a combination of jubilation and quiet satisfaction at being recognized for 16 years of “very quietly, doggedly, persistently” doing away with chemical weapons.

“It’s clear and it’s immediate,” Mr. Luhan said about the noticeable change today among colleagues. “Everyone walks taller. Everyone feels it. Everyone shares in the honour of this prize.”

The OPCW plans to mint an insignia of the medal to send to everyone who has ever working with the organisation because “it’s not just for Syria: this award recognizes 16 years of quiet, diligent work, doing something unprecedented in the history of arms control, which is to eradicate an entire category of weapons under strict international verification.”

Mr. Luhan, who was awakened during the night by a phone call from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation which had learned that the organisation was tapped for the honour, said while staff are enjoying the global spotlight, it is not expected to last.

“Tomorrow we’re all going to get up and put our gum boots on and go back to work,” he noted. “That’s the kind of organization that OPCW is.”

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