(Boston.com) - THE UNITED Nations can be an irreplaceable forum for diplomacy and a provider of humanitarian assistance. But this parliament of Nations has repeatedly failed to live up to its responsibility to protect populations from criminal regimes. Nowhere has that failure been more flagrant than in Burma, where a vicious military junta continues to deceive and defy the world body.
The junta's disregard for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his special envoy for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, will be at center stage this week, when Gambari visits that sad land. As in his previous visits, Gambari can be expected to implore the same generals who callously turned away offers of relief for cyclone victims last spring to release political prisoners and bring about a reconciliation with the National League for Democracy, the overwhelming winner of the last free elections held in Burma, in 1990.
But Gambari's mission is not merely to beg junta leaders for goodwill gestures. His mandate from the UN General Assembly lists two clear and measurable "indicators of achievement" for the year 2008. One is to obtain the release of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest - and of other political prisoners from prison. The second is to bring about "reopening of the offices of the National League for Democracy throughout the country."
If Gambari fails to fulfill this mandate, he should explain why. The UN should then seek more effective means of protecting citizens of Burma from a regime that murders and rapes its own people and conscripts more child soldiers than any other country. In place of fruitless dialogue, the UN will have to explore an arms embargo, banking sanctions, and serious pressure from Burma's Asian neighbors.