OSLO/NEW YORK - Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen schoolgirl, may have been the favourite to win the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize announced in Oslo, Norway, on Friday but a chemical weapons watchdog won the top award.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, is the surprise winner of this year’s Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee made the award for the Hague-based group’s “extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.”
Another snubbed candidate was Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege also is a favourite to win the Nobel prize. He founded a hospital that specializes in treatment of women who have been gang raped by rebels. In a surprise choice, the Nobel committee honoured the UN-backed OPCW for “its extensive efforts” in banishing the scourge of chemical arms.
“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 Norwegian jury said in its statement.
A team of around 30 OPCW arms experts and UN logistics and security personnel are on the ground in Syria and have started to destroy weapons production facilities.
The jury directly criticised the United States and Russia for failing to destroy their chemical weapons by April 2012, as required by the Chemical Weapons Convention.“Certain states have not observed the deadline,” the jury said. “This applies especially to the USA and Russia.”
OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK the prize would be a major boost for his group’s efforts.“I know that the Nobel Peace Prize will help us in fact to promote the universality of the Convention” in the coming months, he said. The OPCW was not considered among the front-runners for the prize until the eve of the announcement.
Teenage Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege had been among the favourites for this year’s prize.
This marks the second consecutive year an organisation has won the prestigious award. Last year’s award went to the European Union. The OPCW was founded in 1997 to implement the Chemical Weapons Convention signed on January 13, 1993.
The convention is “one of the most successful non-proliferation agreements in history,” said Karl Dewey, a London-based expert with defence consultancy IHS Jane’s.
“It has near-universal coverage and the OPCW, the body that oversees compliance, has helped shape the international norms on the non-use of chemical weapons,” he said.
Until recently operating in relative obscurity, the OPCW has suddenly been catapulted into the global spotlight because of its work supervising the dismantling of Syria’s chemical arsenal and facilities. This has to be completed by mid-2014 under the terms of a UN Security Council resolution.
“I’m proud of him and the organisation,” said the wife of one of the OPCW inspectors currently in Damascus.
“I guess it’s a time for celebration but he’s in Damascus so it’s not easy to celebrate,” she told AFP in The Hague, asking not to be named.The OPCW said on Tuesday it was sending a second wave of inspectors to bolster the disarmament mission in the war-ravaged nation.
Malala congratulated the Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical weapons on winning the Nobel Peace Prize, as the internet was swamped with messages voicing disappointment that she was not given the coveted prize. In a statesman-like statement in New York, she said, “The OPCW is an important organisation working on the ground to help rid the world of chemical weapons. I would like to congratulate them on this much-deserved global recognition.
“I would also like to thank the people and media in Pakistan, and those from all over the world, for their support, kindness and prayers. I will continue to fight for the education for every child, and I hope people will continue to support me in my cause.”
Meanwhile, Malala told an audience in New York that she would like to become prime minister of Pakistan to ‘save’ the country. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour at a sold-out public event, she said “I think it’s really good because through politics I can save my whole country.”
Asked about her conflicting dreams of becoming a doctor or a politician, and whether she would like to become premier, Malala said she wanted to help her homeland.
“I can spend much of the budget on education and I can also concentrate on foreign affairs.” The real prize, she said, would be to see every child, black or white, Christian or Muslim, boy or girl, go to school and “for that I will struggle and work hard.”
She paid tribute to previous Nobel laureates, including scientist Abdus Salam who in 1979 won the prize for physics - Pakistan’s only Nobel to date. “Everyone who has got a Nobel prize, they deserve it but when I think of myself I think I have a lot to do,” she told Amanpour.