Urging the destruction of "an entire category" of unconventional weapons, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded its 2013 Peace Prize on Friday to a relatively modest and little-known U.N.-backed body that has drawn attention with a mission to destroy Syria's stocks of chemical arms under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States.
The award to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, Netherlands, took some Nobel watchers by surprise partly because of the unprecedented nature of its current task: overseeing the destruction of a previously secret chemical weapons program quickly amid a raging civil war.
"We were aware that our work silently but surely was contributing to peace in the world," Ahmet Uzumcu, the director general of the organization, told reporters in The Hague after the award was announced. "The last few weeks have brought this to the fore. The entire international community has been made aware of our work."
In its citation, the committee said the organization and the treaty under which it was founded in 1997 "have defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law.
"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."
It was the second successive year that the panel, based in Oslo, Norway, chose an organization for its accolade. The European Union won the 2012 prize.
Thorbjoern Jagland, the former Norwegian prime minister who is chairman of the Nobel Committee, said the award would remind nations holding major stocks of chemical weapons to destroy them "especially because they are demanding that others do the same, like Syria."