This variable is set and thus available in SSI or CGI scripts if and only if the requested document was protected by access authentication. For an explanation on how to implement these restrictions, see Apache Week's articles on Using User Authentication or DBM User Authentication.
Hint: When using a CGI script to receive the data of a HTML FORM notice that protecting the document containing the FORM is not sufficient to provide REMOTE_USER to the CGI script. You have to protect the CGI script, too. Or alternatively only the CGI script (then authentication happens only after filling out the form).