June 25, 2017

OPCW twenty years in The Hague

By Jhr. Alexander W. Beelaerts van Blokland LL.M.

In April 2017 The Hague will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague. The OPCW’s aims are monitoring non-proliferation of chemical weapons, collecting evidence of the destruction of chemical weapons, giving assistance and protection to all member states (almost all countries in the world) and promoting international cooperation in peaceful chemistry. The OPCW is a fully independent, autonomous international organization, with a working staff of 500, representing some 70 nationalities and has an official working relationship with the UN.

OPCW has a long history. One can say that it started back in 1899, also in The Hague. In that year the Hague Peace Conference adopted the first international document on chemical arms control banning the diffusion of ‘asphyxiating and deleterious gases’. Unfortunatelly it did not prevent the use of poisonous gasses in both World Wars, nor did it stop governments from producing and stockpiling chemical weapons. But it did set the groundwork for the future OPCW, laying the foundation for a normative and legal opposition to chemical weapons.

In the 1980s, the debate on these weapons was rekindled. In 1993, the Convention on the Prohibition of Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and Their Destruction was adopted to end the continuing use of chemical weapons in conflicts. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) stipulated the creation of an international organization that would promote and verify the Convention agreements. This lead to a three-way bid for the OPCW between The Hague, Geneva and Vienna. The Netherlands was proud that The Hague had been selected as the official seat of the OPCW.

In April 1997 the Chemical Weapons Convention entered into force. That same month the organization committed to carry out the terms of the Convention opened it doors in The Hague. On 20 May 1998, Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands officially opened OPCW’s modern building. OPCW became an enormous succes and received the Nobel Peace Prize.

OPCW and The Hague will celebrate this on 26 April 2017 in the Hall of Knights. His Majesty King Willem-Alexander will attend this ceremony. During two weeks also hundreds of festive flags and banners will cheer up The Hague as a tribute to OPCW.

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About the author: Jhr. Alexander W. Beelaerts van Blokland LL.M. is Justice (Judge) in the (Dutch) Court of Appeal and honorary Special Advisor International Affairs, appointed by the Mayor and Aldermen of The Hague.

Contact: a.beelaerts@planet.nl

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