The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons may not be a household name to rival that of Malala Yousafzai, but the Hague-based agency charged with destroying Syria’s chemical weapons just became the latest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Since early October, 20 OPCW inspectors have been quite active in Syria, attempting to find and destroy 1,000 tons of chemical weapons with only unarmed U.N. security forces and some Syrian government troops to guard them. The work is both dangerous and critically important, two facts the Nobel committee recognized in its announcement. And the organization has been working for years to curb chemical weapons use not just in Syria but globally.
Much of the online reaction to the prize announcement Friday morning, however, has focused not on OPCW’s victory, but the fact that Yousafzai was not chosen. The 16-year-old Pakistani activist, who was shot by the Taliban last year for her vocal support of girls' and women's education, was far and away the most popular front-runner for this year’s award. And as many an online commentator pointed out, the OPCW only just revved up its Syria operation -- though the Nobel committee was quick to note that the OPCW received the award for its “long-standing work” outside of Syria. Here's some of the disappointed reaction:
The Pakistani politician and former cricket star Imram Khan even released a statement on Malala's loss, calling her nomination "an honour for all Pakistanis" -- and concluding with a subtle jab at the U.S. and Russia, whom he and others fault for not destroying their own chemical weapons stockpiles.
Still, much of the diplomatic community has been quick to celebrate the OPCW's recognition. Anders Fogh Rasmussen is the secretary general of NATO; Espen Barth Eide is minister of foreign affairs in Norway, where the Peace Prize is awarded; James Lambert is Canada's ambassador to the Netherlands, where the OPCW is based.
This is not, of course, the first time in recent memory that the Nobel committee made an unpopular choice in the Peace category. The European Union won last year "for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe;" President Obama won three years earlier, less than a year into his presidency. Both decisions drew plenty of questions and criticism.
This year, OPCW was one of 259 nominations. The organization appeared on few front-runner lists, which also generally included prominent activists like Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Congolese surgeon and women’s rights advocate, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a prominent Russian dissident, and Chelsea Manning -- of WikiLeaks fame.