Posts Tagged ‘Ahmet Uzumcu’

Experience With Syria, Russia Compels The World To Guard Against Chemical Weapons

July 17, 2018

The outgoing head of the world’s chemical arms watchdog has urged nations not to sacrifice a century of hard-fought efforts to banish toxic weapons for the sake of short-term political disputes.

Speaking exclusively to AFP just days before he steps down and with a team of inspectors on the ground in Britain to probe a suspected nerve agent attack, Ahmet Uzumcu called on members of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to overcome bitter divisions.

The Chemical Weapons Convention banning the use, production and stockpiling of arms such as mustard gas, which crept across the battlefields of World War I or enveloped the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988, came into force in 1997.

Today “in order to reach this stage to develop such a regime, the international community spent more than 100 years,” stressed Uzumcu.

“It will be really unfortunate if we make it a victim to short-sighted political interests.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad during their meeting in Sochi on May 17, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad during their meeting in Sochi on May 17, 2018

– Work in a time of war –

When the seasoned Turkish diplomat took over as the OPCW’s director general in July 2010 the body was little known, ploughing away at its arduous task of eliminating the world’s stockpile of chemical weapons.

In total 193 countries have signed up to the convention, and 96 percent of the world’s declared stocks have been eliminated. The remaining 4 percent is in the United States and due to be eradicated by 2023.

Yet the ongoing civil war in Syria has seen repeated allegations of chemical weapons attacks on civilians — 85 reports have been checked by the OPCW’s fact-finding team and 14 have been proven.

Used to being behind the scenes, the OPCW inspectors were thrust into a high-profile war, in full glare of an anxious international community.

© AFP/File | An image grab taken from a video released by the Syrian civil defence in Douma shows volunteers helping children at a hospital following an alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held town on April 8, 2018

“We had to restructure, to re-prioritise our work… we had to prepare and train our staff to go to Syria to conflict areas,” Uzumcu said.

Even after “the most traumatic incident” when one team came under attack and was ambushed in May 2014, there was no lack of volunteers including the team which went into the Syrian town of Douma in April.

In an interim report, experts have ruled out the use of sarin gas in the deaths of about 40 civilians there, but suspect chlorine may have been unleashed.

“Children are dying before our eyes.”

Those were the stark and potent words from UNICEF’s executive director hours after reports emerged of another suspected chemical strike in Syria.

And, like a year ago, soon after the reports came the photos: gut-wrenching and ghastly.

First responders and relief workers said Sunday that they discovered families asphyxiated in homes and shelters in the suburbs of Damascus. Many were found in basements where they had taken refuge during an artillery attack.

Dozens were believed to have perished, among them children; hundreds were reportedly injured. Relief workers said victims had foam around their mouths.

It appeared to be the latest dark turn in a conflict that dragged into its eighth year in March

– Noble cause –

The teams are driven by “the sense of purpose. They think that they are contributing in fact to a noble cause, getting rid of chemical weapons, thereby in fact preventing their use and harming people.”

But the body, which in 2013 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work, has become riven with disputes between Western nations, and Syria’s main ally Russia and its supporters.

“I hope that this division amongst state parties will be over very soon and they will be united once again as used to be the case,” Uzumcu said.

He warned chemical weapons are also evolving — even the so-called Islamic State jihadists were found to have used mustard gas.

“The proliferation risks are high. We need to be aware of this,” Uzumcu said, referring particularly to jihadists returning to their own countries.

Following a landmark vote last month, the OPCW now has the added responsibility of deciding who was behind any attack in Syria.

Uzumcu confirmed inspectors would also review previous attacks, such as in Latamneh in northwestern Syria in March in which both sarin and chlorine were used, to determine who was behind them.

– Taboo crime –

Attribution is the first step towards bringing perpetrators to justice, he insisted.

“Accountability is key,” said Uzumcu, otherwise “we cannot ensure deterrence. We cannot prevent further uses. A culture of impunity would be extremely dangerous for the future.”

A team of OPCW inspectors arrived Sunday in Britain for the second time this year, to take samples including tissue from Dawn Sturgess who died on July 8.

She, and her partner Charlie Rowley who is recovering in hospital, are believed to have been exposed to the same poison used in March in Salisbury on a former Russian spy and his daughter.

Concerned about the events in Britain, Uzumcu revealed he has set up a small taskforce to learn more about this nerve agent, named by London as Novichok, but so rare it is not even listed in OPCW files.

Despite leaving a busy in-tray for incoming director general, Spanish diplomat Ferdinand Arias, Uzumcu remains hopeful as he ends his mandate, pointing out no-one has yet claimed responsibility for any recent attack.

“Everyone, I believe, is fully aware that the use of chemical weapons is a taboo. It’s a crime, and they perfectly understand that those who commit such crimes may be held accountable,” he said.


Chemical weapons team kept from reaching alleged Syria attack site

April 16, 2018

AFP and AP

© Hasan Mohamed, AFP | A child runs along a street in front of clouds of smoke billowing following a reported air strike on Douma, the main town of Syria’s rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta on March 20, 2018.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2018-04-16

Independent investigators were prevented by Syrian and Russian authorities Monday from reaching the scene of an alleged chemical attack near the Syrian capital, an official said.

The incident comes days after the USFrance and Britain bombarded sites they said were linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program.

The lack of access to the town of Douma by inspectors from the watchdog group, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, has left questions about the April 7 attack unanswered.

OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said Syrian and Russian officials cited “pending security issues” in keeping its inspectors from reaching Douma.

“The team has not yet deployed to Douma,” two days after arriving in Syria, Uzumcu told an executive council of the OPCW in The Hague.

Syrian authorities were offering 22 people to interview as witnesses instead, he said, adding that he hoped “all necessary arrangements will be made … to allow the team to deploy to Douma as soon as possible”.

Heather Nauert


Chemical weapons were used on Syrian men, women, and children in . Reports that weapons inspectors require special @UN passes are completely false. and need to stop the disinformation and allow unfettered access to the attack sites.

The US and France say they have evidence that poison gas was used in Douma, east of Damascus, killing dozens of people, and that President Bashar al-Assad’s military was behind it, but they have made none of that evidence public. Syria and its ally Russia deny any such attack took place.

Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov blamed the Western air strikes carried out early Saturday for holding up a mission by the OPCW team to Douma. He told reporters in Moscow that the inspectors could not go to the site because they need permission from the UN Department for Safety and Security.

But a UN spokesman said the clearances have been given to the OPCW team.

“The United Nations has provided the necessary clearances for the OPCW team to go about its work in Douma. We have not denied the team any request for it to go to Douma,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Both Russia and the Syrian government have welcomed the OPCW visit. The team arrived in Syria shortly before the air strikes and met with Syrian officials. Government forces and Russian troops have been deployed in Douma, which is now controlled by the Syrian government.

>> Read more: The difficulties of probing chemical weapons attacks in Syria

Syrian opposition and activists have criticised the Russia deployment in the town, saying that evidence of chemical weapons’ use might no longer be found.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied that Russia interfered with any evidence.

“I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site,” Lavrov told the BBC in an interview Monday.

Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has said his country is “fully ready” to cooperate with the OPCW mission. He said government officials met with the delegation, which has been in Damascus for three days, a number of times to discuss cooperation.

Syria has in the past accused the West of politically manipulating the OPCW mission.

UK Delegation OPCW@UK_OPCW

Director Gen briefs Exec Council on his Fact Finding Mission’s deployment to 🇸🇾 to investigate chem weapon attack. OPCW arrived in Damascus on Saturday. Russia & Syria have not yet allowed access to Douma. Unfettered access essential. Russia & Syria must cooperate.

At least 40 people are believed to have died in the attack on Douma, which until Saturday was the last rebel-held town near Damascus.

The OPCW team dispatched to Syria to investigate does not have a mandate to assign blame.

Russia vetoed last year the extension of the mandate of another joint UN-OPCW joint body in charge of determining who was behind other chemical attacks in Syria. The joint body was created in 2015 and found the Syrian government responsible for using sarin gas last year in Khan Shaykhoun, a rebel-held area in northern Syria.

>> Read more: A history of the Syria chemical weapons ‘red line’

Meanwhile, NATO’s secretary general said the US-led air strikes will reduce the Syrian government’s capabilities of carrying out new chemical attacks.

Jens Stoltenberg said the strikes were a “clear message” to Assad, Russia and Iran that the use of chemical weapons is not acceptable and that the allies would not stand idle. He spoke in an interview with Turkey’s NTV television on Monday.

In Damascus, hundreds of Syrians gathered Monday in Omayyad Square in Damascus, rallying in support of their armed forces, which they said had succeeded in confronting the air strikes by the West.

State TV broadcast the rally live from the central square, where protesters waved Syrian flags in a demonstration that was dubbed a “salute to the achievements of the Arab Syrian Army”. They also set off fireworks and unleashed celebratory gunfire.

Shouts of “Allah, Syria, and only Bashar,” a reference to Assad, rang out.

The strikes have ratcheted up international tension, as the US and Russia exchanged threats of retaliation.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said a decision on new economic sanctions against Russia will be made “in the near future”. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley had said a decision was coming Monday for sanctions against Russia for enabling the Assad government to continue using chemical weapons, but the White House did not commit to that timetable.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the military strikes violated the UN Charter and that if they continue, “it will inevitably entail chaos in international relations”, according to a Kremlin statement on Sunday.

Douma was the last rebel holdout in the eastern Ghouta enclave, which was the target of a government offensive in February and March that killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands of people.

Syrian media, Russian and Syrian officials have sought to play down the impact of the airstrikes, saying the Syrian air defences intercepted most of the missiles. The Pentagon says no missiles were engaged.

Also Monday, British Prime Minister Theresa May was to face angry lawmakers for authorising the strikes without a vote in Parliament. Her office said she planned to tell them the strikes were “in Britain’s national interest” and were carried out to stop further suffering from chemical weapons attacks.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

Syria Can’t Hide From Its Use of Chemical Weapons: World’s chemical weapons watchdog says — Assad regime admits to nothing

November 27, 2017


© AFP/File | The April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhun triggered global outrage as images of suffering children, such as these receiveing treatment, were shown worldwide

THE HAGUE (AFP) – Syria came under pressure Monday to fill in gaps in its declaration to the world’s chemical weapons watchdog amid reports of toxic arms use during its six-year civil war, triggering angry Syrian denials.A fact-finding mission from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has issued three reports showing the use of chemicals weapons in the country in recent years, OPCW chief Ahmet Uzumcu said.

Image result for Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, photos

“It’s very disturbing that yet again we are confronted with the use of chemical weapons,” Uzumcu told the annual conference of countries belonging to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

It was “vital… that the long-held international norm against chemical weapons remains strong and the perpetrators are held accountable,” Uzumcu said.

The 1993 arms treaty binds all member states to help rid the world of chemical weapons.

Syria under President Bashar al-Assad finally joined in 2013, admitting under US-Russian pressure to having a toxic arms stockpile, and thus staving off threatened US air strikes.

Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad hit back at what he said were “false accusations” of the regime’s alleged involvement in attacks, saying the “politicised findings” of the OPCW fact-finding mission aimed to “smear the image of Syria” and destabilise his country.

– ‘No impunity’ –

He insisted that 100 percent of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile had been destroyed by the OPCW.

Countries had “sent their mercenaries from all over the world and encouraged them to use chemical weapons and toxic chemical against civilians and the Syrian army,” he claimed.

He insisted the fact-finding team should carry out a new investigation.

The debate in The Hague came on the eve of fresh talks in Geneva with the United Nations aiming to revitalise flagging efforts to end the six-year conflict in which more than 340,000 people have been killed.

A joint UN-OPCW body, the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), in its latest report blamed the Syrian air force for a sarin gas attack on the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhun in April that left scores dead.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Estonia’s representative for non-proliferation, Jacek Bylica, said EU countries were “appalled by the recurring systematic use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Syrian government and by (the jihadist group) ISIL.”

“There can be no impunity and those responsible for such acts must be held accountable,” he said, calling on Damascus to work with the OPCW to complete an accurate picture of its chemical weapons stockpile.

The OPCW has declared that 100 percent of the Syrian regime’s stocks have been destroyed, but has increasingly voiced concerns that not everything was declared.

Chemical weapons allegedly used 45 times in Syria: OPCW chief says

April 28, 2017


© AFP/File | A child receives treatment following a suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in Syria’s the northwestern Idlib province, on April 4, 2017


Experts from the world’s watchdog tasked with destroying chemical weapons are probing reports that toxic arms have been used 45 times in Syria since late last year, the body’s chief said Friday.

Director general Ahmet Uzumcu said there was “a huge list of allegations” of the use of toxic arms reported to the operations hub of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

In the “second part of 2016, 30 different incidents, and since the beginning of this year, 15 separate incidents, so 45,” he told a reporters, brandishing a list of several pages which he chose to keep confidential.

They include the April 4 sarin gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun that was reported to have killed 88 people, including 31 children.

“All these allegations are recorded by our experts, who follow this every day from our operations centre,” Uzumcu said.

The OPCW is currently trying to ensure it is safe enough to deploy its fact-finding team to the town for further analysis, after Uzumcu said last week that “incontrovertible” test results from OPCW-designated labs on samples taken from victims showed sarin gas or a similar substance had been used.

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has “already stated that they would support this mission, actually they have invited us to go via Damascus,” he said.

“The problem is that this area is controlled by different armed opposition groups, so we need to strike some deals with them to ensure a temporary ceasefire, which we understand the Syrian government is willing to do,” he added.

“If we can put all this together then we will deploy. The team is ready, and we have the volunteers.”

However, it is not yet mandated to also visit the Shayrat air base in the central Syrian province of Homs.

The base was the target of a US strike launched in the wake of the Khan Sheikhun attack, and Russia has called for the allegations that it was stocking chemical weapons to be investigated.

Uzumcu also confirmed that the OPCW, based in The Hague, believed jihadist rebels from the so-called Islamic State group had used “sulphur mustard” near Iraq’s second city of Mosul last week.

The Iraqi military said some security personnel were injured in the April 15 attack as part of the operation to recapture Mosul.

The OPCW has offered to help Iraqi forces investigate, but “they have not yet requested any assistance,” Uzumcu said.

Syria calls chemical arms accusations ‘campaign of lies’

November 28, 2016


© AFP/File | Both the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State group have been accused of using chemical weapons

THE HAGUE (AFP) – Syria launched a blistering verbal attack Monday on “Western” countries that have accused it of using chemical weapons in its deadly five-year conflict, calling the allegations “a campaign of lies”.

“The multitude of accusations, made in some Western circles without any tangible evidence, as to the responsibility of the Syrian government in cases of use of toxic chemicals are but a part of a coordinated and repeated campaign of lies,” Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad said.

He was speaking at the annual conference of countries belonging to the Chemical Weapons Convention, an arms treaty that bounds all its member states to help rid the world of chemical weapons.

More than 300,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

Both the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State group have been accused of unleashing toxic arms during the conflict.

A panel set up by the UN, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism, has already determined during a year-long probe that Syrian government forces carried out three chlorine gas attacks on villages in 2014 and 2015.

It was the first time that an international inquiry pointed the finger of blame at Assad and his forces, after years of denial from Damascus since the start of the civil war.

The panel consisting of UN and experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) also found that the IS group — which captured a large swathe of Iraq and Syria in 2014 — was behind a mustard gas attack in Syria in August 2015.

But Mekdad on Monday disputed the JIM’s findings, saying its reports were made on “the basis of inaccurate and unconvincing findings” which “undermines the credibility of the OPCW”.

The world should instead be concerned about stopping terror groups like IS from making and using chemical weapons, Mekdad added.

Speaking at the start of the five-day conference in The Hague, OPCW chief Ahmet Uzumcu however stressed that “gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies” remain in Syria’s statements about its own chemical weapons programme.

It has been more than three years since Syria caved to international pressure under a Russia-US brokered deal in September 2013 and agreed to hand over its chemical stockpile to the OPCW for destruction.

It was the first time Syria publicly acknowledged having a chemical arms stockpile and came after a sarin gas attack in August that year on rebel-held areas near Damascus blamed on Assad’s regime.

Uzumcu told AFP earlier this month that the OPCW is probing more than 20 reports of the alleged use of toxic arms in Syria since August.


Islamic State jihadists likely made the mustard gas and other chemical weapons used in attacks in Syria and Iraq

November 18, 2016


© YouTube/AFP/File | Jihadists belonging to the so-called Islamic State group may have manufactured sulphur mustard gas used in attacks in Syria and Iraq themselves, the head of a global watchdog says

THE HAGUE (AFP) – Jihadists belonging to the so-called Islamic State group may have manufactured sulphur mustard gas used in attacks in Syria and Iraq themselves, the head of a global watchdog told AFP Friday.Samples analysed by experts with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons “suggest that this substance may have been produced by ISIS itself,” the body’s director general Ahmet Uzumcu said, adding it was of “poor quality but still harmful” and the development was “extremely worrying”.



‘Serious concern’ That Syria Used Gas Attack On Enemies of the Assad Regime

March 25, 2015


The world’s chemical watchdog on Wednesday said it is monitoring “with serious concern” reports alleging that Damascus unleashed a chlorine gas attack in northwestern Syria earlier this month.

“We have been monitoring the recent reports suggesting that toxic chemicals may have been used as weapons in the Idlib province in Syria,” Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons chief Ahmet Uzumcu said.

“The matter is of serious concern,” Uzumcu said in a statement, issued at the OPCW’s Hague-based headquarters.

A young man breathes with an oxygen mask on March 17, 2015 at a clinic in the village of Sarmin, southeast of Idlib, Syria, following reports of suffocation ...

A young man breathes with an oxygen mask on March 17, 2015 at a clinic in the village of Sarmin, southeast of Idlib, Syria, following reports of suffocation cases related to an alleged regime gas attack in the area. Photo credit Mohamad Zeen (AFP/File)

A monitoring group and opposition activists said six people, including three young children, were killed in the alleged regime gas attack in the village of Sarmin, in Idlib province 10 days ago.

The attack prompted outrage from rights group Amnesty International, which said it was further evidence of regime “war crimes”.

Activists have accused the Syrian regime of using chlorine — a toxic agent that can be considered a chemical weapon — on civilian areas in the past.

A report by the OPCW in January concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that chlorine gas had been used in attacks on three villages in Syria last year.

At least 13 people died in the attacks that were carried out from April to August, according to the report.

A chlorine-tinged cloud of smoke rises into the air from a bomb detonated by Iraqi army and Shi'ite fighters from Hashid Shaabi forces, in the Iraqi town of al-Alam

A chlorine-tinged cloud of smoke rises into the air from a bomb detonated by Iraqi army and Shi’ite fighters from Hashid Shaabi forces, in the Iraqi town of al-Alam Photo: AFP/Getty

Uzumcu said Wednesday the OPCW would continue a current fact-finding mission into the use of “toxic chemicals for hostile purposes” in Syria.

After an August 2013 sarin attack outside Damascus that much of the international community blamed on President Bashar al-Assad’s government, the regime agreed to turn over its chemical arsenal.

But Syria did not have to declare its stockpile of chlorine — a toxic agent that can be considered a chemical weapon — as part of a disarmament deal agreed in 2013 because it is widely used for commercial and domestic purposes.

The Assad regime and the rebels have accused each other of using chemical agents, including chlorine, in the nearly four-year war that has killed more than 210,000 people.


Obama’s “Red Line”? Syria’s opposition claims it has evidence of chlorine gas attack by Assad’s forces last week

April 14, 2014


A woman, affected by what activists say was a gas attack, breathes through an oxygen mask inside a field hospital in Kfar Zeita village in the central province of Hama April 12, 2014. REUTERS-Stringer

A woman, affected by what activists say was a gas attack, breathes through an oxygen mask inside a field hospital in Kfar Zeita village in the central province of Hama April 12, 2014.   REUTERS/Stringer

(Reuters) – Syrian opposition activists have posted photographs and video that they say shows an improvised chlorine bomb to back up claims that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces used chemical weapons in two attacks last week.

Rebels and the government have blamed each other for the alleged poison gas attacks on Friday and Saturday on rebel-held Kfar Zeita village in the central province of Hama, 125 miles north of Damascus.

Both sides said chlorine gas – a deadly agent widely used in World War I – had been used. The gas, which has industrial uses,

is not on a list of chemical weapons that Assad declared to the global chemical weapons watchdog last year for destruction.

It is a so-called dual-use chemical, which would have to be declared to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a spokesman said.

State-run television on Saturday accused the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front of carrying out the attacks, which it said wounded dozens.

On Sunday, activists from the “Syrian Revolution in Kfar Zeita” posted video footage and pictures of an unexploded canister with the chemical symbol for chlorine, Cl2, on its side which they said was found in the village.

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the video or pictures.

Eliot Higgins, a respected UK-based researcher who trawls daily through online videos of Syria’s civil war to verify weapons in them, could not verify the opposition’s claims but said the videos did appear to show an industrial chlorine cylinder.

“It looks like they (the government) have taken an industrial chlorine cylinder, put it in a improvised barrel bomb and dropped it out of a helicopter,” he told Reuters.

The yellow paint on the cylinder complies with international standards on industrial gas color codes indicating it contains chlorine, he said.


A U.N. inquiry found in December that sarin gas had likely been used in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where hundreds of people were killed.

The inquiry only looked at whether chemical weapons had been used, not who used them. The Syrian government and the opposition have each accused the other of using chemical weapons on several occasions, and both have denied it.

The Ghouta attack sparked global outrage and a U.S. threat of military strikes, which was dropped after Assad pledged to destroy his chemical weapons.

Syria has destroyed or surrendered 65.1 percent of the 1,300 metric tons (1 metric ton = 1.1023 tons) of chemical weapons it reported possessing but must increase the pace if it is to meet deadlines it agreed to, the global chemical weapons watchdog said on Monday.

A 13th shipment was loaded onto cargo ships in the port town of Latakia on Monday to be destroyed abroad, it said.

OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu said while the latest handover was encouraging, “both the frequency and volumes of deliveries have to increase significantly to restore alignment of actual movements against the projected time frame.”

Syria has until June 30 to completely abandon its program but is running several weeks behind schedule.

Syria’s three-year civil war has killed more than 150,000 people, a third of them civilians, and caused millions to flee.

(Reporting by Oliver Holmes in Beirut and Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Nobel Prize to Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Is Really an Honor to Putin, Assad — Insulting to the victims

October 11, 2013

Nobel Prize Politicized Again? The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to a chemical weapons inspectors has been   attacked as premature and  giving support to the regime of President Bashar   al-Assad.

Syria gas

A man cradles the body of a dead child amongst the bodies of dozens of others in Damascus Photo: REUTERS

By Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent

Opponents of the Syrian dictator said the award of the prize to the Organisation   for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons supported the deal by which the   Syrian regime avoided US military intervention by agreeing to surrender its   chemical stockpile.

The Nobel Prize committee said Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical   Weapons had won the award for its past work, not just because of its   recently embarked project to remove and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons   programme.

However, its chairman, Thorbjørn Jagland, added: “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.”

Inspectors were allowed in after Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister,   and John Kerry, the US secretary of state, struck a deal as a way of warding   off American military intervention.

At the time Syrian opposition activists and rebels, including in Ghouta, the   scene of the chemical weapons attack in August that killed hundreds of   people, said that it allowed Mr Assad to consolidate his grip on power.

“They are insulting the martyrs, intentional humiliation of the victims,”   an activist who tweets as “Shami Witness” said. “This is an award to Assad and Putin.”

The criticism was also taken up by analysts and human rights workers, who   pointed out that the organisation had been given the award in the one year   during its 16-year existence when chemical weapons had been used on a mass   scale.

“I would have thought 2013 would have been a year for soul searching at   OPCW, not accolades,” said Nadim Houry, director of the Beirut office of Human Rights Watch.

Salman Sheikh, director of the Brookings Institution in Doha, Qatar, said:   “Let’s face it, Kerry, Lavrov and Assad helped OPCW win. I doubt many folks knew much about OPCW before.”

In fact, OPCW did oversee the partial dismantling of the chemical weapons   arsenal of Col Muammar Gaddafi of Libya after his rapprochement with the   West and before the uprising against its rule.

That programme, however, was subject to delays.



Weapons-inspectors Photo: AP

Photo: Syrian men in Arbeen town, an eastern suburb of Damascus, Syria, were among  more than 200 killed in what two pro-opposition groups claimed was a “poisonous  gas.” August 2013.

Nobel Peace Prize Will Go To International Chemical Weapons Oversight Organization Currently Working in Syria

October 11, 2013


OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu speaks during a news conference in The Hague

Ahmet Uzumcu of the The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).  (Photo credit: Toussaint Kluiters/Reuters)

By Balazs Koranyi and Alister Doyle

OSLO (Reuters) – The global chemical weapons watchdog charged with overseeing destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile during a civil war won the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a relatively small organization with a modest budget, dispatched its experts after a sarin gas attack killed more than 1,400 people in August.

Their deployment, supported by the United Nations, helped avert a U.S. strike against President Bashar al-Assad.

Thorbjoern Jagland, the head of the Nobel Peace Prize committee, said that the award was a reminder to nations with big stocks, such as the United States and Russia, to get rid of their own reserves “especially because they are demanding that others do the same, like Syria”.

“We now have the opportunity to get rid of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction….That would be a great event in history if we could achieve that,” he said.

The OPCW’s mission was unprecedented in taking place during a civil war that has riven the country and killed over 100,000 people. Members of the Hague-based OPCW team came under sniper fire on August 26, but OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu said this week Syrian officials were cooperating in the process.

The award marks a return to the classical disarmament roots of the prize after some recent awards, such as to the European Union last year and U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009.

Those awards led to criticism that the committee was out of line with the spirit of prize, founded by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.

His 1895 will says the prize should go to one of three causes – “fraternity between nations”, the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.

Washington blamed President Assad for the August sarin attack, a charge he denied, instead blaming rebels. Facing the threat of a U.S. military strike, he eventually agreed to destroy Syria’s sizeable chemical weapons program and allow in OPCW inspectors.

Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head a year ago by the Taliban, had been the bookmakers’ favorite to win the prize for her campaign for girls’ right to education. The OPCW only appeared in speculation in the final hours before the prize.

The $1.25 million prize will be presented in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death.

The OPCW, based in the Hague in the Netherlands, has about 500 staff and an annual budget of under $100 million.

The OPCW, which has 189 member states, said Syria was cooperating and it could eliminate its chemical weapons by mid-2014, provided they received support from all sides in its civil war.

Chemical weapons experts believe Syria has roughly 1,000 tonnes of sarin, mustard and VX nerve gas, some of it stored as bulk raw chemicals and some of it already loaded onto missiles, warheads or rockets.

Under a Russian-U.S. deal struck last month, Syria must render useless all production facilities and weapons-filling equipment by November, a process begun over the past several weeks.

(Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche in Oslo; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Jon Boyle)


Syria's President Bashar al-Assad heads the plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling al-Baath party, in Damascus in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA July 8, 2013. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad heads the plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling al-Baath party, in Damascus in this handout photograph distributed by Syria’s national news agency SANA July 8, 2013.  Credit: Reuters/SANA/Handout via Reuters

OSLO: The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons won this year’s  Nobel Peace Prize today “for its extensive efforts” to rid the world of such arsenals, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.

“The conventions and the work of the  OPCW have defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law,” the committee 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.”

Based in The Hague, Netherlands, the OPCW was formed in 1997 to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention, the first international treaty to outlaw an entire class of weapons.

The organisation has 189 member states and today’s award comes just days before Syria officially joins and even as OPCW inspectors are on a highly risky United Nations-backed disarmament mission based in Damascus to verify and destroy President Bashar Assad’s arsenal of poison gas and nerve agents amid a raging civil war.

The peace prize was the last of the original Nobel Prizes to be announced for this year. The winners of the economics award, added in 1968, will be announced on Monday.

Photo: Syrian men in Arbeen town, an eastern suburb of Damascus, Syria, were among  more than 200 killed in what two pro-opposition groups claimed was a “poisonous  gas.” August 2013.


What and who is The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).?

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – The Organization for the Probition of Chemical Weapons was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its work to rid the world of such weapons. Here’s a look at the OPCW and the work it has been doing over the past 15 years:


The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was thrust into the spotlight in recent weeks when it was required to oversee the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria, but it has been working since the 1990s as the body that implements the Chemical Weapons Convention, the first international treaty to outlaw an entire class of weapons.


The convention prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons. It came into force in 1997 and has been ratified by 189 states. Of those, seven – Albania, India, Iraq, Libya, Russia and the United States, along with a country identified by the OPCW only as “a State Party” but widely believed to be South Korea – have declared stockpiles of chemical weapons. These include mustard gas and nerve agents like sarin and VX.

Syria is due to become a member state of the organization on Monday and has acknowledged having chemical weapons. Non-signatories to the treaty include North Korea, Angola, Egypt and South Sudan. Israel and Myanmar have signed but not ratified the convention.


The OPCW has conducted more than 5,000 inspections in 86 countries. It says 100 percent of the declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been inventoried and verified.

According to its statistics, 57,740 metric tons, or 81.1 percent, of the world’s declared stockpile of chemical agents have been verifiably destroyed. Albania, India and “a third country” – believed to be South Korea – have completed destruction of their declared stockpiles. An OPCW report released earlier this year said the United States had destroyed about 90 percent of its stockpile, Russia had destroyed 70 percent and Libya 51 percent.

Thirteen OPCW members have also declared a total of 70 chemical weapons production facilities. The organization says all 70 have been taken out of commission including 43 destroyed altogether and 21 converted to peaceful purposes.


The OPCW is funded by its member states and had a budget of some (EURO)74 million euros ($100 million) in 2011. It employs some 500 people in The Hague. The director-general is Turkish diplomat Ahmet Uzumcu.