International Organizations

Background Information/Directories

Publications of International Organizations

United Nations

European Union

Review Questions

UNITED NATIONS - Introduction

The UN was founded in 1945. It is a huge and complex organization, with 191 member states (virtually every country in the world). The UN Charter , which is available on the UN website and reprinted every year in the Yearbook of the United Nations , describes its purpose and structure. The United Nations Home Page includes information about current events, an overview of the organization, and selected documents. The UN NewsCentre is a good source of up-to-the-minute information about UN activities.

The Main UN Organs

The UN Charter outlines the responsibilities of the organs of the UN.

The General Assembly is the major deliberative and policy-making body of the UN; all member countries participate in the General Assembly, and each country has one vote. The Assembly has allocated much of its work to six Main Committees:

The Secretariat carries out the programs and policies of the UN, such as administering peacekeeping operations, mediating international disputes, and organizing international conferences on important issues of global interest.

The Secretariat is headed by the Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon of the Republic of Korea, whose duties include helping to resolve international disputes.

The Security Council is responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security. It is comprised of five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the U.K.,and the U.S,) and ten other members elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. The Security Council may call for measures not involving the use of force (such as economic sanctions) or military action to prevent or stop aggression.

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) coordinates the work of the UN specialized agencies and commissions, and promotes world cooperation to solve economic, social and health problems. ECOSOC is also responsible for facilitating international cultural and educational cooperation and encouraging universal respect for human rights.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) decides international disputes between states and provides judicial guidance to the other major organs of the UN. The ICJ web site includes texts of recent opinions and pleadings, docket information, press releases, and general information about the court.

Reports of Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders (1947- ) contains the official reports of the decisions of the court in English and French. Pleadings, Oral Arguments, and Documents contains documents such as written pleadings and their annexes, transcripts of oral proceedings, and correspondence. Volumes in this series are published after a case has been decided. These series are available in many college, university and law libraries.

The texts of all of the court's decisions are also available in the subscription databases Westlaw (INT-ICJ)and LexisNexis (INTLAW;ALLICJ). Some unpublished pleadings (written and oral) are available on the ICJ website in an uncorrected version. Interim Documents (including pleadings) from 2004- are available in LexisNexis (INTLAW; ICJDOC).

For more detailed guidance to finding ICJ materials see Germain's International Court of Justice Research Guide (and in Germain's Transnational Law Research ) .

The 6th main body, the Trusteeship Council, which was responsible for administering eleven trust territories suspended operation on November 1, 1994, with the independence of Palau, the last remaining UN trust territory, and will not be discussed.

Research Tip: The Official Website Locator for the United Nations System of Organizations provides links to the many specialized agencies in the UN system.

The guide to UN research in the American Society of International Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law also provides links to the many of the most important official UN sites.

Finding UN Documents

The UN produces thousands of documents each year which are arranged according to how they are published and distributed. UN documents are identified by alphanumeric symbols indicating their source and type.

The United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld Library has produced several useful guides for UN research. UN Documentation: Research Guide explains the meaning of UN document symbols, gives an overview of UN publications and advice on working with them. The United Nations Systems Pathfinder identifies the major publications of the organizations comprising the United Nations system. The UN-I-QUE database is a good tool for finding a document symbol or sales number. It focuses on publications of a recurrent nature (e.g. annual reports, periodicals, journals, conference reports, etc.)

Another excellent UN resource for finding documents is UNBISnet , an up-to-date database containing bibliographic information for many documents in UN libraries, citations to speeches, voting information, and the full text of some resolutions. Coverage begins in1979 (with indexing for resolutions of the main bodies back to 1945).

To find earlier documents you need to use either the print indexes produced by the UN (which are available in many university documents collections and law libraries) or the commercial index AccessUN, available by subscription, which also provides links to the full text of selected documents since 1966.

Resolutions,“formal expressions of the opinion or will of United Nations organs” (UN Documentation: Research Guide ) are perhaps the category of UN documents most often sought by researchers.

 Many libraries own compilations of UN resolutions in print. For more help finding resolutions, see Duke Law Library United Nations Research Guide or UC Berkeley Law Library, Researching the United Nations.

Research Tip : The Yearbook of the United Nations, which is available in many college, university and law libraries, provides summaries with citations to many documents (including resolutions), or the full text of the documents themselves.

UN Treaties

The fee-based United Nations Treaty Collection includes the United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS) and Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General .

The United Nations Treaty Series is the most comprehensive series for both bilateral and multilateral treaties; it can be searched by subject, popular name, participants, registration number, etc. (but not by UNTS citation).

Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General, provides up-to-date status information (such as participating countries, dates of signature and ratification), citations to UN treaties, texts of declarations and reservations, and links to the texts of the treaties.

The United Nations Treaty Series and Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General are available in print in many college, university and law libraries.

 For more information on UN treaty research, see the Treaties and Agreements section of this tutorial.

Research Guides

For more in-depth information on researching the UN, see the following research guides: