United Nations documents provide important and extensive information regarding various aspects of international and foreign law. This guide is an introduction to United Nations materials, highlighting materials available at the Goodson Law Library and Perkins/Bostock Library.
Understanding the structure and organization of the United Nations is the first step to using United Nations documents effectively, because most documents are arranged and accessed by organ. The six principal organs of the United Nations are: the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice, the Secretariat, the Security Council, and the Trusteeship Council.
The General Assembly is the main deliberative and policy-making body of the United Nations. All member countries participate in the General Assembly. Each country has one vote, and all votes count equally. The regular session of the General Assembly begins in September of each year and usually continues through mid-December. Special or Emergency Special Sessions may be called throughout the year. The General Assembly has six main committees: Disarmament and International Security; Economic and Financial; Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural; Special Political and Decolonization; Administrative and Budgetary; and Legal.
The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) was set up to promote world cooperation on economic and social problems; it coordinates the work of the UN specialized agencies and commissions. The 54 member governments of ECOSOC are elected by the General Assembly for terms of three years, with 18 elected each year.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ or World Court) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It was created under Chapter 14 of the Charter of the United Nations and has its seat in The Hague, Netherlands. The court's power to decide international disputes is defined by the Statute of the International Court of Justice. The court also provides judicial guidance to the other major organs of the United Nations on legal questions arising within the scope of their activities. The fifteen judges on the court are elected by the General Assembly and the Security Council for terms of nine years. No two judges can be nationals of the same state, and the principal legal systems of the world are represented on the court.
The Secretariat provides studies, information, and facilities needed by the various bodies of the United Nations for their meetings. The Secretary General heads the Secretariat; his duties include helping to resolve international disputes, administering peace-keeping operations, organizing international conferences, gathering information on the implementation of Security Council decisions, and consulting with member governments regarding various international relations initiatives.
The Security Council is charged with the task of promoting international peace and security in all parts of the world. The Security Council investigates disputes, determines the existence of threats to the peace and acts of aggression, and recommends what action (including military action) should be taken against aggressors. The Security Council is made up of the five permanent members (China, France, Russian Federation, U.K., U.S.A.) and ten other members elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. Decisions on substantive matters require nine votes (including concurring votes of all five permanent members).
The Trusteeship Council was responsible for administering and preparing eleven trust territories for self-government and independence. The Trusteeship Council suspended operations on November 1, 1994, with the independence of Palau, the last remaining U.N. trust territory, and will meet only as the occasion requires.
Maureen Ratynski Andersen, Where to Begin ... When You Don't Know How to Start: Tips for Researching U.N. Legal Materials, 31 Int’l J. Legal Info. 264 (2003)
ASIL Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law: United Nations. Provides extensive guidance on researching the UN and related organizations, including links to official U.N. websites and the sites of related organizations, other online sources for U.N. documents and information, bibliographic resources, libraries and research centers, statistics, and current developments, among many other resources
Joseph Preston Baratta, United Nations System (Ref. JZ4984.5 .B37 1995). This lengthy bibliography includes works on the U.N., its specialized agencies, and related international organizations. There are useful annotations as well as subject and author indexes.
International Information: Documents, Publications and Electronic Information of International Government Organizations, 2d ed. (Peter I. Hajnal, ed.) (Ref. JZ4850 .I58 1997 & online). This work discusses United Nations and League of Nations documentation.
Wiltrud Harms, Selected U.N. Resources and Research Tools: Overview and Search Tips for Legal Research. A very useful comparison of the most important finding tools for U.N. documents aimed at helping researchers choose the best resource for the job.
Introduction to International Organizations (Lyonette Louis-Jacques & Jeanne S. Korman, eds.) (Ref. KZ4850.I586 1995). This book contains a very useful section on researching U.N. documents.
Jeanne Rehberg, "United Nations Lawmaking Activities and Documentation" in Accidental Tourist on the New Frontier: An Introductory Guide to Global Legal Research (Jeanne Rehberg & Radu D. Popa, eds.) (Ref. K85.A27 1998).
The United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld Library has produced several useful guides for U.N. research. U.N. Documentation: Research Guide gives an overview of the major publications of the organizations comprising the U.N. system, advice on working with them, guidance by area of interest (disarmament, environment, human rights, etc.), and key resources (official documents, press releases, yearbooks, etc.). United Nations Publications identifies major publications of the organizations in the United Nations system.
For hands-on practice researching UN documents, take a look at the Duke University School of Law and University of California, Berkeley, School of Law International Legal Research Tutorial.
There are many sources available that provide extensive background information on the history, organization, structure, and activities of the United Nations. Some of the most useful sources are listed below:
- Jacques Fomerand, The A to Z of the United Nations (JZ4984.5 .F66 2009). Contains cross-referenced entries on the UN's committees, organizations, leaders, terms, policies, and major historical events, as well as a bibliography, a reproduction of the UN's Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a list of the Member States and when they joined.
- Annual Review of United Nations Affairs, 1949- (JZ4945 .A66). This detailed annual review of the activities of the major organs and subsidiary bodies of the United Nations includes the full text of selected documents and references to other documents. It is supplemented by A Chronology and Fact Book of the United Nations (Ref. JZ4945 .C57).
- Basic Facts About the United Nations (Ref. JZ4970 .U55) provides an overview of the work of the UN in areas such as economic development, peacekeeping and human rights. Issued by the UN's Dept. of Public Information, it is updated regularly.
- Jacques Fomerand, Historical Dictionary of the United Nations (Ref. JZ4969 .B46 2007). Includes an overview of the U.N.’s history and structure, a chronology and an extensive bibliography.
- The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary, 3d ed. (Bruno Simma, ed.) (KZ4991 .C52 2012). A guide to the legislative history and meaning of the Charter.
A Concise Encyclopedia of the United Nations (Helmut Volger, ed.) (KZ4968 .L4913 2010). This book provides information on the UN system, as well as insight into recent UN developments, challenges, and reform efforts.
- Conforti, Benedetto, The Law and Practice of the United Nations, 4th rev. ed. (KZ4986 .C69 2010). A legal analysis of the structure and function of the UN.
- Everyman's United Nations, 8th ed. (Superseded Ref. JZ4970.E84 1968). This basic reference work covers the activities and evolution of the United Nations during its first twenty years, 1945-1965.
- Everyone's United Nations, 10th ed. (Ref. JZ4970.E84 1986). This book describes the structure and activities of the United Nations and its specialized agencies since its founding, with an emphasis on the period from 1978-1985. This edition supplements Everyman's United Nations, which covers some topics in greater detail.
- A Global Agenda: Issues Before the General Assembly of the United Nations (JZ4945 .G56) (received in the Law Library since 1993 and in Perkins Documents Reference since 1978). This annual survey covers developments in the United Nations and in international affairs where the United Nations has played a role.
- Robert F. Gorman, Great Debates at the United Nations: An Encyclopedia of Fifty Key Issues 1945-2000 (Ref. JZ4970 .G67 2001). A useful feature of this work is a timeline of important events in which the UN has been involved through July 2000.
- Robert Kolb, An Introduction to the Law of the United Nations (KZ4986 .K65 2010). Offers an overview of the law of the United Nations, as well as its history, agencies, and members.
- Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law, 1997- (Periodicals & online in HeinOnline Foreign & International Law Resources Database). This yearbook focuses on the development of the United Nations, its specialized agencies, and their impact on international relations and international law; it includes articles and reprints of documents.
- John Allphin Moore & Jerry Pubantz, Encyclopedia of the United Nations (Ref. KZ4968.M66 2008) includes a chronology and bibliography, as well as entries on the institutions, policies, procedures, and historic personalities associated with the United Nations, and the role of the United Nations in major world events.
- Edmund Jan Osmańczyk, Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements, 3d ed. (Anthony Mango, ed.) (Ref. KZ4968.E65 2003). This 4-volume encyclopedia contains information on the United Nations, its specialized agencies, and many intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations that cooperate with the UN. It also has entries on international agreements, conventions, and treaties, along with texts of UN declarations and major human rights instruments. Many of the entries are followed by citations to authorities and references to further sources of information.
- The Oxford Handbook on the United Nations (Thomas G. Weiss & Sam Daws, eds.) (JZ4970 .O93 2007 & online) is a collection of essays that examine historical, legal, political, and administrative aspects of the U.N.
- UN Chronicle, (Periodicals 1975- & online 1997- ). The Chronicle is a quarterly periodical that reports on recent events involving the United Nations and its agencies. It provides document symbols, the classification system used for U.N. documents, and references to resolutions. The UN NewsCentre is updated daily.
UN Global Pulse has as its mission to “close the information gap between the onset of a global crisis and the availability of actionable information to protect vulnerable populations” and to “harness innovation to create a global network that enables decision makers to respond rapidly and effectively to emerging crises.” It focuses on new UN online publications such as major reports, publications and documents; it is updated as new information is received.
UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies: Law and Legitimacy (Helen Keller & Geir Ulfstein, eds.) (K3240 .U5 2012). Examination of the UN Human Rights treaty bodies, including legal aspects, functions and decisions, and effectiveness.
- United Nations Handbook (Ref. JZ4970 .U65 U5). This very useful annual publication, put out by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, provides current information about both the principal and the subsidiary organs of the U.N.
Stanley Meisler, United Nations: A History (JZ4984.5 .M45 2011). Provides a comprehensive history of the UN from its founding to the present.
- United Nations Juridical Yearbook, 1963- (KZ4949 .U54; historical issues in HeinOnline Foreign & International Law Resources Database). The Juridical Yearbook is a comprehensive survey of United Nations legal affairs. It is divided into four parts: (i) selected texts of documents concerning the legal status of organs and agencies within the United Nations system; (ii) discussions of the legal activities of those organizations; (iii) judicial decisions by national and international tribunals relating to the United Nations; and (iv) legal bibliography of the United Nations and related intergovernmental organizations. Publication of the Yearbook is about six years behind.
- United States Participation in the United Nations, 1946- (Doc. S 1.70/8 & online). This U.S. Department of State publication covers the activities of the United States government in the United Nations and its affiliated organizations.
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the Travaux Préparatoires (William A. Schabas, ed.) (K3246.2 U55 2013). Collection of annotated documents associated with the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, organized chronologically, as well as a compilation of human rights provisions from national constitutions, organized thematically.
- Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1949- (KZ21 .U54 and Microform (A/ CN.9/ Ser. A/)); historical issues in HeinOnline Foreign & International Law Resources Database). The Commission's Yearbook is issued in two volumes. Volume 1 contains the summary records of the meetings of the International Law Commission, and Volume 2 contains documents relating to subjects discussed during the session and the Commission's annual report to the General Assembly.
- Yearbook of the United Nations, Vol. 1- (Periodicals & online). The Yearbook gives a detailed history of the activities of the United Nations and affiliated organizations for each year. The Yearbook is an excellent place to begin research if you are interested in a specific time period. The Yearbook is arranged by topic and has a detailed table of contents and several useful appendices and indexes. There are references throughout to documentation related to the points discussed, and document symbols are given at the end of each section. A commercial publication called the Annual Review of United Nations Affairs (JZ4945 .A66) updates and supplements the Yearbook. The UN NewsCentre (http://www.un.org/News) is a good source of up-to-the-minute information about U.N. activities.
There are many additional publications on all aspects of the United Nations system. Most of these materials can be located using the online catalog and periodical indexes. For law review articles discussing the United Nations and its activities, use the Index to Legal Periodicals, LegalTrac, or the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals. Non-legal periodical indexes, such as PAIS (which is available on Westlaw and on Perkins Library’s list of web databases), are also useful in locating articles on all aspects of the United Nations. If you need assistance locating additional materials about the United Nations, its activities, or its organization, ask a Reference Librarian.
A. Types of U.N. Documents
The United Nations produces three types of documents: official records, masthead documents (which used to be called "mimeographed documents"), and sales publications. The U.N. arranges the documents in these categories according to how they are published and distributed (desktop publishing and the Internet have made these distinctions less apparent); the categories are not based on the importance or subject matter of the documents.
- Official Records include: (i) records of the plenary meetings of the main organs; (ii) annexes containing the text of agenda items; and (iii) supplements containing reports and resolutions. The meeting records contain the full text of speeches, descriptions of actions taken on resolutions together with voting records, a list of delegations, and a checklist of documents issued on various agenda items discussed during the session. Summary records include summaries of speeches, outlines of actions taken on resolutions, and voting records.
Masthead Documents include provisional records of meetings, reports, resolutions, and other working documents of the United Nations organs. They are the most comprehensive source of information on the activities of the United Nations. Some masthead documents are later published in final form in the Official Records or as sales publications; many, however, are found only as masthead documents.
Sales Publications include the yearbooks, studies, and reports produced by the United Nations. These cover a wide range of subject areas and can be located using the online catalog. In contrast to Sales Publications, most official United Nations documents are not included in the online catalog.
United Nations documents are identified by alphanumeric document symbols indicating the source and type of document. Publications in the masthead documents and microfiche collections are arranged according to these symbols. There is a brief explanation of the meaning of these symbols in Appendix I; more detailed illustrations are provided by U.N. Documentation: Research Guide and United Nations Document Guide.
Many documents are available on the U.N.'s website; however, the site's search function does not permit sophisticated searches. There are several approaches you can take when you’re looking for documents on a particular subject:
- Check the Yearbook of the United Nations or the yearbook of a specialized agency or commission. The yearbooks discuss in detail the organization's activities for that year and often provide either the full text of United Nations documents or summaries with citations to the full text of the documents.
- The Journal of the United Nations includes a daily list of documents issued by UN headquarters along with links to the texts (starting in 1996).
There are indexes and finding aids for United Nations documents in both electronic and print formats. The online databases include links to the texts of many documents, often in PDF format.
a. The Official Document System (or ODS) database covers all types of official United Nations documentation beginning in 1993, with older documents being added every day (it doesn't include press releases or U.N. sales publications). This is best place to look for very current documents. The websites of many of the U.N. bodies have selected documents only, so this database is also a good source for more obscure documents.
b. ACCESS UN is a web-based, commercially-published index to United Nations documents. If you are looking for documents on a particular subject, this is an excellent source to use because it permits key word searching (but it is not comprehensive). It also provides links to the full text of selected documents. Coverage begins in 1966.
c. UNBISnet is produced by the U.N.'s Dag Hammarskjöld Library. Besides providing bibliographic information for many documents in U.N. libraries, this database also gives the full text of some resolutions. It provides citations to speeches, and is especially useful for finding voting information. It is very up-to-date.
d.The UN-I-QUE database is a good tool for finding a document symbol or sales number. This database, which is produced by the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, focuses on publications of a recurrent nature (e.g. annual reports, periodicals, journals, conference reports, etc.).
e. The major printed finding aid for recent (1998-) United Nations documents is the official index, the United Nations Documents Index. For older United Nations documents, the following indexes must be consulted: United Nations Documents Checklist (1996-1997); UNDOC: Current Index (1979-1996);UNDEX (1973-1978); United Nations Documents Index (UNDI) (1950-1972); and Checklist of United Nations Documents (1946-1949). The Law Library received UNDOC in microfiche. All of the indexes are available in paper format at Perkins Library in the Public Documents department.
Microfiche & Print Collections: The Law Library has a collection of United Nations documents on microfiche relating to law and human rights from 1987-2007. This collection includes selected official records and masthead documents from the following organs: General Assembly and its committees, commissions, and conferences; Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and its committees; International Court of Justice; Convention on the Law of the Sea; Security Council; and Trusteeship Council. The human rights collection includes documents from the Commission on Human Rights and the Commission on the Status of Women; also included are documents relating to various human rights conventions such as the International Convention Against Apartheid in Sport, the Convention Against Torture, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Check the AccessUN database for the "Readex year" to find fiche published out of chronological sequence.
The Law Library's collection of United Nations documents published before 1987 is much less extensive. The library has a collection of the Official Records of the General Assembly and ECOSOC from the 15th through 33d sessions (1960 to 1978). A large collection of materials relating to the International Court of Justice is available dating back to the formation of the court in 1947.
The Public Documents department of the Perkins/Bostock Library has a comprehensive collection of Official Records in paper and a microfiche collection of older mimeographed documents and current masthead documents.
Resolutions are the expression of formal decisions of organs of the United Nations reflecting official positions on questions before those bodies. Resolutions may be passed by any of the main organs of the United Nations; however, most resolutions come out of the General Assembly or Security Council. General Assembly resolutions are numbered consecutively in order of adoption and are identified by number and session. They are published as a part of the General Assembly Official Records and usually appear as supplements to the meeting records. They can be found in the U.N. microfiche set at the end of the “Plenary Meeting” section for each session. Resolutions are identified with a document symbol (e.g. A/RES/44/128 indicates the 128th resolution adopted at the 44th session of the General Assembly). Prior to 1976, resolutions were numbered consecutively using Arabic numbers for the resolution followed by Roman numerals in parentheses for the session. For example, resolution 2548 (XXIV) is the 2548th resolution adopted at the 24th session of the General Assembly.
Resolutions of the major organs of the United Nations first appear as masthead documents and later in the Official Records of the relevant organ. The general indexes to United Nations documents cover resolutions in addition to other types of documents. There are also specialized indexes to resolutions of the General Assembly and Security Council, both of which are available at Perkins Library in the Public Documents Reference area.
The texts of many resolutions, often in PDF format, are also available on the U.N. website, which contains General Assembly and Security Council resolutions starting in 1946. The Official Document System database also includes resolutions from 1946- (from the "Advanced" search page choose "Resolutions 1946-1993" from the drop-down menu; for resolutions from 1993- select "UN Documents"); this database includes resolutions (such as those of the Trusteeship Council) which are not online elsewhere.
Some resolutions are also available on UNBISnet, and ACCESS UN. Selected resolutions are published in full text in the U.N. Chronicle or the Yearbook of the United Nations, together with a discussion of the subject to which the resolution relates. Other sources for selected United Nations resolutions include: International Legal Materials (Periodicals) and U.S. Department of State Dispatch (Doc. S. 1.3/5; ceased publication in December 1999). Both of these sources are available on LexisNexis and Westlaw. The New York Times and wire services often have the full text of important resolutions.
There are also compilations of United Nations resolutions, including a comprehensive, although not updated, source for General Assembly resolutions and one for Security Council resolutions:
- United Nations Resolutions. Series 1, Resolutions Adopted by the General Assembly (KZ5006.2 .D56). This twenty-four volume set includes all resolutions of the General Assembly from 1946 to 1986. Resolutions are arranged in chronological order.
- United Nations Resolutions. Series 2, Resolutions and Decisions of the Security Council (KZ5036 .D56). This eleven volume set includes all resolutions of the Security Council from 1946 to 1979. Resolutions are arranged in chronological order.
- Resolutions and Statements of the United Nations Security Council (1946-2000): A Thematic Guide (Ref. KZ5036 .R47 2001) organizes resolutions by topic.
Voting at the United Nations is typically by show of hands, and is indicated in the record of the meeting as total numbers for, against, and abstaining. A member state may request a roll call vote. If the vote was by show of hands and there is no record of how each country voted, sometimes a study of the discussion before the vote will indicate the position taken by the delegates. Votes in the U.N. General Assembly (JZ5006.2 .M37 1998) provides a detailed analysis of the voting process.
Sources for information about voting records include:
- The Official Records of the appropriate organ provide full text of speeches, descriptions of actions taken on resolutions and voting records. Summary records include summaries of speeches, outlines of actions taken on resolutions, and voting records.
- UNBISnet is an up-to date source of voting information.
- The U.N. Chronicle and the Yearbook of the United Nations include voting information and summaries of debates.
- The New York Times often reports roll-call votes on important issues.
- U.N. press releases may also give information about voting.
- The Dag Hammarskjöld Library has produced an excellent, detailed guide to finding voting information.
The Law Library has an extensive collection of ICJ documents in paper and on microfiche. The ICJ website includes docket information, press releases, general information about the court, and texts of opinions.
Reports of Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders, 1947- (KZ214 .I58); 1987- (Microfiche). This series contains the official reports of the decisions of the court in English and French. The full texts of all of the court's decisions are also available on the ICJ web site, Westlaw (INT-ICJ database), and LexisNexis (Short Name INTLAW;ALLICJ). International Legal Materials (Periodicals) reprints selected judgments with citations to Report of Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders.
Pleadings, Oral Arguments, and Documents (KZ218.2 .I58). This series contains documents such as written pleadings and their annexes, transcripts of oral proceedings, and correspondence. Depending on the amount of documentation to be printed, one or more volumes are issued for each case. Volumes in this series are published after a case has been decided. Pleadings (written and oral) are available on the ICJ website, linked to the cases. 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 (Short Name INTLAW; ICJDOC).
Bibliography of the International Court of Justice (Ref. KZ6272 .B53). This annual publication lists materials concerning the ICJ received by the Registry of the court during the year.
The Case Law of the International Court (KZ213 .C37 1952). This multi-volume set contains digests of the decisions of the court and its predecessor, the Permanent Court of International Justice. The digest covers cases through 1974, and the entries are arranged by subject.
La Cour Internationale de Justice = International Court of Justice (Oversize KZ6275 .C687 2006) An illustrated overview of the history and activities of the ICJ, prepared by the Registry of the Court.
Digest of the Decisions of the International Court of Justice (KZ213 .D3 1990). This volume contains digests of the decisions of the court from 1976-1985. The World Court Digest (KZ213 .D53 1992) covers decisions of the court from 1986-1995; an electronic version is also available.
Documents on the International Court of Justice (Shabtai Rosenne, ed.), 3d ed. (KZ6277.D64 1991). This book contains the Rules of Court, the Charter of the United Nations, the Statute of the International Court of Justice, resolutions concerning states subject to the court's jurisdiction, and other relevant documents.
International Court of Justice Yearbook, 1947- (KZ6273.I8; 1971-1977 are on microfiche; selected historical editions available in HeinOnline). The court's Yearbook contains summaries of judgments, advisory opinions, and orders of the court during the year. It also includes a chronological list of all the cases that have been decided by the court, a bibliography of publications by both the court and the Permanent Court of International Justice (the predecessor of the ICJ), a chronological list of treaties governing the jurisdiction of the court, and biographical information about the court's judges.
Shabtai Rosenne, The Law and Practice of the International Court, 1920-1996, 3d ed. (KZ6275.R67 1997). This treatise provides in-depth analysis of how the court works, its jurisdiction and procedure; it includes basic documents, indexes and tables of cases. Rosenne’s The World Court: What It Is and How It Works, 6th ed., rev. by Terry D. Gill (KZ6275.R672 2003) presents a step-by-step explanation of how a case is tried. The World Court Reference Guide: Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders of the Permanent Court of International Justice and the International Court of Justice (1922-2000) (Bimal N. Patel, ed.) (KZ200.5 .W67 2002) provides an overview of procedural aspects of ICJ jurisprudence.
The Statute of the International Court of Justice: A Commentary (Andreas Zimmermann, et al. eds.) analyzes the Statute of the ICJ and related provisions of the U.N. Charter (KZ6275 .S735 2006).
F. Permanent Court of International Justice
The Law Library also has a collection of documents from the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ), the court of the League of Nations, which was in existence from 1922-1946. Many of these documents are also available on the PCIJ website.
Decisions of the PCIJ are published in Publications de la Cour permanente de justice internationale = Publications of the Permanent Court of International (also known as World Court Reports (KZ208 .P47 Series A/B). Pleadings are published in Cour permanente de justice internationale: Plaidoiries, exposés oraux et documents = Permanent Court of International Justice: Pleadings, oral statements and documents (KZ208 .P47 Series C). Speeches and other documents are found in Actes et documents relatifs aux arrêts et aux avis consultatifs de la cour = Acts and Documents Relating to Judgments and Advisory Opinions Given by the Court (KZ208 .P47 Series C). Information about the PCIJ and a few selected decisions are available at http://www.worldcourts.com/pcij/eng.
The United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS) (KZ172 .T73 & online) is the most important and comprehensive treaty series currently published. Unfortunately, publication and indexing are many years behind. Treaties of member nations that are registered with the Secretariat are published in the original language(s), followed by English and French translations, if necessary. Annexes contain subsequent action taken on the treaties. The web version can be searched by subject, popular name, participants, registration number, etc. (but not by UNTS citation).
United Nations Treaty Series-Cumulative Indexes and Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary General (KZ171 .M86) also provide access to the treaties. The cumulative indexes are published for every 50 volumes of the treaty series and do not cumulate, despite their title. Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary General provides more information, although it covers far fewer treaties. It is published annually and gives citations to UNTS volumes when available and to other sources when UNTS cites are not available. Additional useful information includes participating countries for each treaty, and dates of signature and ratification. Texts of declarations and reservations are also included. The web version of Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General provides links to the texts of the treaties. It is updated daily. The commercial publication United Nations Cumulative Treaty Index (Ref. KZ171 .U546 1999) provides access to U.N. treaties by treaty number, date, country and subject.
The U.N. Statement of Treaties and International Agreements Registered or Filed andRecorded with the Secretariat (KZ171 .S73) is a monthly publication providing the title, registration number, and dates of all agreements registered with the U.N. along with information about subsequent actions. It runs about three years behind. For more information on locating treaties, consult the research guide on treaties, or ask a Reference Librarian for assistance.
Rule 21.7 of The Bluebook explains how to cite United Nations documents. Note that there are different rules for citing resolutions and reports, sales publications, masthead documents, and yearbooks or periodicals. The Bluebook has specific rules on citing the Charter (Rule 21.7.10) and UNTS (Rule 21.4.5). T3 shows which authorities to cite and how to abbreviate properly.
In addition to the sources listed elsewhere in this guide, the U.N. website offers a number of interesting and useful links:
- Directory of United Nations System Organizations provides a list of web sites for U.N. agencies and programs.
UNdata, from the UN Statistics Division, includes data on a variety of topics, such as agriculture, health, refugees, and trade.
United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law includes historic documents, photos, and digital film footage relating to the UN's role in the development of international law, videos of lectures by international law scholars and links to other web-based research resources in international law, including other UN sources.
United Nations Publications identifies major publications of the organizations in the United Nations system.
rev. KD 02/2014
Appendix I: United Nations Document Symbols
The documents produced by the United Nations are identified by alphanumeric symbols based on the structure of the organization. The document symbol indicates the issuing body and the nature of the document and is the key to locating documents in the microfiche or masthead documents collections. The following are symbols of the principal organs of the United Nations:
- A/- General Assembly
- E/- Economic and Social Council
- S/- Security Council
- ST/- Secretariat
- T/- Trusteeship Council
Special symbols have been designated for subsidiary organs of the United Nations, such as:
- AT/- United Nations Administrative Tribunal
- CCPR/- Human Rights Committee
- CERD/- Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
- DP/- United Nations Development Programme
- TD/- United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
- UNEP/- United Nations Environment Program
- WFC/- World Food Council
After the first slash, there may be a second series of symbols indicating the sub-body within the main organ which produced the document. For example,
- -/AC/- Ad Hoc Committee or Similar Body
- -/C/- Standing, Permanent or Main Committee
- -/CN/- Commission
- -/CONF/- Conference
- -/GC/- Governing Council
- -/PC/- Preparatory Committee
- -/PCN/- Preparatory Commission
- -/SC/- Sub-committee
- -/Sub/- Sub-commission
- -/WG/- Working Group
- -/WP/- Working Party
Following the sub-body designation, the year and session may be indicated. Finally, the following symbols may be added to denote the nature of the document:
- -/BUR/- General Committee Documents
- -/DEC/- Texts of Decisions
- -/INF/- Information Series
- -/L/- Limited Documents
- -/MIN/- Minutes
- -/NGO/- Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations
- -/PET/- Petitions
- -/R/- Restricted Documents
- -/PV/- Verbatim Records of Proceedings
- -/RES/- Texts of Resolutions
- -/RT/- Records of Testimony
- -/SR/- Summary Records of Meetings
- -/WP/- Working Papers
If the document relates to an earlier document, the following symbols are used:
- -/Add Addition of text to the main document
- -/Amend Alteration of a portion of an adopted formal text
- -/Corr Correction of errors in the text of a main document
- -/Excerpt Reissue of an excerpt from a document when only that portion is required
- -/Rev New version of document, replacing texts previously issued
- -/Summary Summary of a report, prepared to facilitate consideration by an organ
If the document is of limited or restricted distribution, it may have the one of the following symbols:
- -/L Limited distribution
- -/R Restricted distribution