(Washington Post) - IT HAS BEEN ALMOST a year since the world was stirred by thousands of Burmese monks and ordinary people taking to the streets to demand freedom -- and being bloodily crushed by one of the world's cruelest regimes. Governments everywhere proclaimed that such violence and repression could not stand, and they insisted that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon do something. Mr. Ban sent his special envoy on a mission with explicit goals: Secure the release of democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, and help the National League for Democracy (NLD) to reopen offices throughout the country. The envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, just finished sixth fruitless mission to Burma, and it is clear now that U.N. diplomacy has become a cover for inaction, not a pathway to reform.
Aung San Suu Kyi performed an extraordinary act of bravery during Mr. Gambari's most recent trip. The daughter of Burma's independence hero, she led the NLD to overwhelming victory when the regime last permitted elections in 1990s. The junta refused to recognize the results and has kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of the years since. Last fall the regime promised Mr. Gambari that it would begin a dialogue with the democracy leader and allow her to meet with NLD colleagues. But supreme leader Gen. Than Shwe reneged on even that meager concession, and she refused to see the U.N. envoy on his latest trip, even as he hobnobbed with one regime crony after another. Since Aung San Suu Kyi is permitted no communication from her confinement, we can only guess at what motivated this snub. But it is likely that the indomitable Nobel Peace Prize winner decided, even at the price of intensifying her own frightful isolation, not to give further legitimacy to a process that was only dignifying the regime.
Not surprisingly, as Than Shwe has intensified the crackdown in his own country -- and, let's not forget, refused international aid for victims of Cyclone Nargis this spring -- U.N. and other international officials have decided to blame the victim. The prime minister of Thailand, which cultivates its own ties with the corrupt regime, on Monday urged other leaders to forget about Aung San Suu Kyi. A fig leaf of international process comforts the regime, those who trade with it -- and those who give flowery speeches about democracy but resist action, such as an arms embargo. It is time for Mr. Ban to say that he won't allow the United Nations to be exploited and humiliated in this way.