Contrary to popular expectations, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) beat clear favourite Pakistani teenager Malala Yousufzai to win this year's Nobel Peace Prize for its “extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons”.
OPCW, the body overseeing destruction of Syria's chemical weapons, won the world's top peace prize that 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.
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 in Syria was unprecedented, during a civil war that had shaken 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 US 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 said 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.
The $1.25 million prize will be presented in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death.
An hour before Friday’s official announcement, Norwegian public broadcaster NRK wrote on its website that the Norwegian Nobel Committee will honour the Hague-based global chemical watchdog with the coveted prize.
NRK has a strong track record of reporting winners. Last year, it had announced that the EU would win an hour before the official statement.
This year the Nobel committee received a record 259 nominations, including Congoloese gynecologist and rape victim activist Dr Denis Mukwege, Guatamala's first female attorney general Dr Claudia Paz y Paz, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.
Malala, who stood up to the Taliban, was considered a frontrunner by several experts, despite popular criticisms like 'she's too young' or ' she hasn't done enough'.
By giving the award to the largely faceless international organization - OPCW - 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.
Here's a look at the OPCW and the work it has been doing over the past 15 years:
Where did the OPCW come from?
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) 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.
What does the treaty do and who is a member?
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.
What does it do?
The OPCW has conducted more than 5,000 inspections in 86 countries. It says 100% of the declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been inventoried and verified.
According to its statistics, 57,740 metric tons, or 81.1%, 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% of its stockpile, Russia had destroyed 70% and Libya 51%.
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.
Who runs the OPCW?
The OPCW is funded by its member states and had a budget of some 74 million euros (Rs 6,12,93,70,000) in 2011. It employs some 500 people in The Hague. The director-general is Turkish diplomat Ahmet Uzumcu.