After prodding from the United States, the U.N. Security Council voted in August to send peacekeepers to Darfur, the region in western Sudan where Islamist Arab militias have slaughtered some 400,000 people.
The peacekeepers have not yet been sent because the government of Sudan, which sponsors the Janjaweed militias, objects. In the unlikely event U.N. peacekeepers ever arrive, the refugees had better hide their women.
Several Rwandan women told a commission investigating the 1994 Rwanda genocide that French soldiers raped them when they sought refuge at U.N. bases. The soldiers were part of a peacekeeping force which also did not intervene as Hutu militias massacred Tutsis. Some 800,000 people were killed.
"The French used to come to our refugee tents and take girls, including myself," a Tutsi woman told an investigating commission in Rwanda Tuesday. "They would forcefully start to have sexual intercourse with us, many French soldiers at the same time."
A 1999 report commissioned by the United Nations found that the organization had failed Rwanda by ignoring evidence that genocide was planned, by refusing to act once it was under way and then by abandoning the Rwandan people when they most needed protection.
The U.N. official in charge of peacekeeping at the time was Kofi Annan. He ordered U.N. troops not to interfere, and then to withdraw. When the 1999 report came out, Mr. Annan, now the outgoing U.N. secretary general, promised "never again." But "never again" already had happened.
Roughly 250,000 people were killed in the Bosnian civil war. There were U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia for most of that time, but they did little to prevent the ethnic cleansing. The ugliest incident occurred at Srebrenica in July 1995, when Serb militiamen took 7,500 Muslim men and boys from a U.N. designated "safe zone" and shot them, as U.N. peacekeepers watched.
In another 1999 report, the United Nations said it failed to save thousands of Bosnian Muslims from Serb mass murder because of "an inability to recognize the scope of the evil confronting us."
"The cardinal lesson of Srebrenica is that a deliberate and systematic attempt to terrorize, expel or murder an entire people must be met decisively with all necessary means ... ," Mr. Annan said.
But the lesson U.N. peacekeepers evidently learned is that refugees make easy pickings. A U.N. report in December 2004 identified some 150 instances in which U.N. peacekeepers and staff sexually abused war refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
We've also seen how ineffective the United Nations has been at preventing outlaw regimes such as North Korea and Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
But the organization has excelled at one thing during Kofi Annan's tenure. The Oil for Food scandal, in which Saddam Hussein paid U.N. officials to look the other way as he diverted money intended to feed Iraqis to weapons programs, was the largest financial scandal in history.
Mr. Annan's term as secretary general mercifully came to an end last week. He gave a valedictory address Monday at the Truman library in Kansas City, where he was sharply critical of the United States.
"Kofi Annan served as secretary general during 10 of the most difficult, complicated and dangerous years of the U.N.'s history," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., in a fawning introduction. "He did it with grace, humor, determination and always doing what he felt was in the interests of mankind."
Those who persist in seeing the United Nations and Mr. Annan as they would like them to be instead of how they are are mentally and morally challenged. Kenneth Cain, who served in U.N. peacekeeping operations in Rwanda, Haiti and Liberia, is not.
"Liberal multilateralists on the left, like me, are often skittish about offering too pungent a critique of Mr. Annan, because it offers aid and comfort to the 'enemy' on the conservative unilateralist right," he said. "But if anyone's values have been betrayed at the U.N. over the past decade, it is those of us who believe most deeply in the organization's ideals."