Chemical watchdog group wins Nobel Peace Prize

OSLO, Norway — The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its efforts to stop the chemical warfare that has haunted the world from Hitler’s gas chambers to the battlefields of Syria.

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 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.”

The organization has 189 member states and Friday’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.

By giving the award to the largely faceless international organization the Nobel committee found a way to highlight the Syria conflict, now in its third year, without siding with any group involved in the fighting.

U.N. war crimes investigators have accused both sides of wrongdoing, though they said earlier this year that the scale and intensity of rebel abuses hasn’t reached that of the regime.

In the past, 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 and have or are in the process of destroying them.

However, the committee noted that some countries have not observed their deadlines.

“This applies especially to the USA and Russia,” the committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said.

The OPCW had largely worked out of the limelight until this year, when the United Nations called on its expertise to help investigate alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

And when — faced by the prospect of U.S. military strikes — Assad admitted his chemical stockpile, his government quickly signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention and allowed OPCW inspectors into his country.

Syria is scheduled to formally become a member state of the organization on Monday.

The first inspection team arrived last week, followed by a second this week and they have already begun to oversee the first stages of destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons.

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.

Here’s a look at the achievements being honored by this year’s Nobel Prizes, the $1.2 million awards handed out since 1901 by committees in Stockholm and Oslo:

NOBEL PRIZE IN LITERATURE

The literature prize was given to Canada’s Alice Munro, hailed by the award-giving Swedish Academy as a “master of the contemporary short story.” The 82-year-old author is often called “Canada’s Chekhov” for her astute, unflinching and compassionate depiction of seemingly unremarkable lives. She is the author of a series of story collections chronicling the lives of girls and women before and after the 1960s social revolution, including “The Moons of Jupiter,” ”The Progress of Love” and “Runaway.”

NOBEL PRIZE IN CHEMISTRY

The chemistry prize was given to three U.S.-based scientists for developing computer models that predict complex chemical reactions that can be used for tasks like creating new drugs. Their approach combined classical physics and quantum physics. The winners are Martin Karplus of the University of Strasbourg, France, and Harvard University; Michael Levitt of the Stanford University School of Medicine, and Arieh Warshel of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

NOBEL PRIZE IN PHYSICS

The physics prize was awarded for a theory about how subatomic particles get their mass. The theory made headlines last year when it was confirmed at the CERN laboratory in Geneva by the discovery of the elusive Higgs particle. The prize was shared by two men who proposed the theory independently of each other in 1964: Peter Higgs of Britain and Francois Englert of Belgium.

NOBEL PRIZE IN PHYSIOLOGY OR MEDICINE

The medicine prize, the first of the 2013 awards, honored breakthroughs in understanding how key substances are moved around within a cell. That process happens through vesicles, tiny bubbles that deliver their cargo within a cell to the right place at the right time. Disturbances in the delivery system can lead to neurological diseases, diabetes or immunological disorders. The prize was shared by Americans James E. Rothman of Yale and Randy W. Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley; and German-American Dr. Thomas C. Sudhof of the Stanford University School of Medicine.

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