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 centre 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.

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 United Nations will have to explore an arms embargo, banking sanctions, and serious pressure from Burma’s Asian neighbors.