By: UN Insider on June 23, 2011 Afghanistan: The Secretary-General welcomed today President Barack Obama’s announcement to start the drawdown of American forces in Afghanistan as of July 2011. He called the decision the beginning of a transition to greater responsibilities of the Afghan Government and ultimately to full Afghan leadership and ownership: “Turning the page on decades of war will be long and extremely challenging. A peaceful and stable Afghanistan must be based on an Afghan-led and internationally supported political settlement between all Afghans who break from terrorism, abandon violence and abide by the Afghan Constitution. Only an all-inclusive political process can restore peace and open again the opportunities to normal life and prosperity for Afghan men, women and children.”. As mandated by the Security Council, the UN will continue to provide all necessary assistance to the Afghan people and their Afghan Government. Ambassador Susan Rice took questions from the press following a Security Council Briefing on the Middle East. Bahrain: The Secretary-General noted with deep concern the harsh sentences, including life imprisonment, handed down in Bahrain against 21 political activists, human rights defenders and opposition leaders. He urged the Bahraini authorities to allow all defendants to exercise their right to appeal and to act in strict accordance with their international human rights obligations, including the right to due process and a fair trial. The Secretary-General hopes that the Bahraini authorities will do everything possible to create an environment conducive for the start of a concrete national dialogue, and believes that it should be genuine, inclusive and lead to tangible outcomes which address the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis. Israel-Palestine: The Security Council began its work today with a discussion of the Middle East, with USG for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe informing the Council that the Secretary-General is increasingly worried about the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian talks. The Secretary-General said that, with both the Palestinians and Israel stressing their desire to negotiate, President Obama’s recent speech contained ideas that the international community can rally behind to offer a framework to resume talks and seek an agreement. He looks forward to the Quartet giving impetus to this objective through a meeting at Principals level soon. Gaza Flotilla: Regarding reports that a new flotilla is planned in the next few days, Mr. Pascoe reiterated the strong view of the UN that assistance for the population of Gaza should be delivered through official crossings. The Spokesperson added that the approval of projects to help complete two areas of housing, implemented by UNRWA, was an important step to improve the situation in Gaza. In a press stakeout this morning (video available here), the Israeli Ambassador referred to the flotilla as a clear “provocation” which has nothing to do with humanitarian aid or the good of the Palestinian community. He said that Israel is determined to defend itself and exercise its right, for the sole reason to stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. A series of questions from the press followed questioning his position. DRC: The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has received several worrying reports about incidents of an unknown number of alleged rapes and looting committed in South Kivu. Investigations to confirm these reports are ongoing in consultation with local authorities. MONUSCO and its partners are dispatching an assessment team to Nyakiele, a remote village located 8 hours by foot from the nearest UN military base. The humanitarian NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (“Doctors Without Borders”) has separately reported treating over 100 victims of rape and other forms of trauma since gaining access to Nyakiele on 21 June. World Drug Report: The Secretary-General spoke at the launch of the World Drug Report 2011 of the UNODC today. He said that the new publication paints a sobering picture of the threat posed by illegal drugs, and that people who become dependent on illicit drugs must not be blamed or shamed. He also commended the work of UNODC for carrying out life-saving activities in many countries around the world.