A WATCHDOG overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons has won the Nobel Peace Prize this morning, pipping the hot favourite, Afghan schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.
The 16-year-old Pakistani girl was the target of a Taliban assassination attempt and has since travelled the world, including Ireland, advocating education for girls.
The surprise winners of the Peace Prize were the experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a Hague-based global chemical weapons watchdog supported by the United Nations. They are working to destroy Syria's massive chemical weapons stockpile after a sarin gas strike in the suburbs of Damascus killed more than 1,400 people in August.
The Nobel committee says the OPCW won in part because of its previous work and not just because of Syria.
Embarassingly, it seems the OPCW is unaware of its win - the official Nobel Twitter account put out a tweet appealing for the organisation to get in touch. The text of the tweet said: "@OPCW Please contact us @Nobelprize_org we are trying get through to your office."
The $1.25 million prize will be presented in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will.
Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, which has a strong track record leaking the names of winners, reported the OPCW's victory more than an hour before the official announcement.
The 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."
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.
Thorbjoern Jagland, the head of the Nobel Peace Prize committee, said 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 more than 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.
While the inspection and destruction of chemical weapons continues, with a team of 27 experts in the field, government forces and rebels press clash across the country with conventional weapons. Human Rights Watch said this week rebels had killed at least 190 civilians in Latakia province in August.
Those awards led to criticism that the committee was out of line with the spirit of the prize, founded by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.