2014-AS-Plenary-CompositLeft to right: Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, a view of the opening plenary, Swiss President and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Didier Burkhalter.

BAKU, 28 June 2014 – The 23rd OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session has begun in Baku, with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Swiss President and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Didier Burkhalter addressing nearly 300 parliamentarians from more than 50 nations.

Their remarks set the stage for five days of meetings, debates and decision-making under the Session's theme of "Helsinki +40: Towards Human Security for All," a reference to the upcoming 40th anniversary of the OSCE's founding document, the Helsinki Final Act.

President Aliyev welcomed OSCE parliamentarians to Baku before turning his focus to Azerbaijan's modernization efforts.

"Political reforms will be a top priority on our agenda for coming years. We need to do more -- to implement more reforms. I'm sure our commitment and co-operation with international institutions, such as the OSCE, will allow us to implement what we have planned," said President Aliyev.

"Implementing economic reform alone will not allow us to achieve our goal, which is modernization," he added.

The President referred at length to the ongoing conflict concerning Nagorno-Karabakh and the necessity to ensure the implementation of resolutions agreed by international bodies, including the OSCE. [For video of the speech, click here.]

Ogtay Asadov, the Speaker of the Parliament of Azerbaijan, who spoke following President Aliyev, called for the OSCE to prioritize its efforts to help settle the region's conflicts.

In his address to the Assembly, Swiss President and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Didier Burkhalter called Azerbaijan's hosting of the PA Annual Session "an expression of the country's commitment to the OSCE and the organization's role in democratization."

Burkhalter also welcomed the Parliamentary Assembly's role in promoting critical dialogue across the OSCE area and its work to help to Organization "win the best of all fights -- the fight for freedom, the fight for security, and the fight for peace."

The Chairperson spoke in detail on the OSCE's efforts to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine and reiterated his call for the release of the four OSCE monitors still being help in the East of the country. [For video of the speech, please click here.]

OSCE PA President Ranko Krivokapic also addressed the inaugural plenary, stating that the OSCE had reached a "crossroads" at which it must fully realize that "security and co-operation are inseparable."

He commended Azerbaijan on the progress it has made, while noting that "the persistence of conflict in the region and the serious challenges that remain in meeting all OSCE commitments is a reminder that our work is yet incomplete."

He also urged parliamentarians to "demonstrate our primary strength: the steadfast commitment to bridge our differences and reach mutual understanding" on the situation in Ukraine and other issues.

Earlier in the day, the Standing Committee of the OSCE PA met to approve the agenda for the Session and to hear reports on the activities of the Assembly. PA President Ranko Krivokapic, Secretary General Spencer Oliver and Treasurer Roberto Battelli presented reports. The Committee unanimously adopted a budget for 2015.

Also in the Standing Committee, all 14 supplementary resolutions were approved for parliamentarians to consider in the coming days and to vote on later in the Session.

The Russian Delegation and several others expressed opposition to including a supplementary item on the agenda that relates to Russia's actions in Ukraine. The item will be debated by parliamentarians on 1 July.

The OSCE PA Annual Session will culminate in the adoption by parliamentarians of the Baku Declaration, which will contain policy recommendations for the OSCE and its 57 participating States in the fields of political affairs and security, economics, the environment and human rights.

For the Session's programme, as well as the text of all draft resolutions, supplementary items and amendments, click here.

The Session is being live-streamed on the OSCE PA homepage, www.oscepa.org, and recorded video is available at www.youtube.com/user/oscepa/videos.

Follow news from the Session on Twitter using the hashtag #BakuAS.