The United Nations

Introduction

The United Nations replaced the League of Nations in 1945. The United Nations Charter was signed on June 26, 1945 at San Francisco (3 Bevans 1153, UN Yearbook). The mandate of the United Nations includes peace and security, economic and social development, human rights, decolonization and international law. It is composed of six principal organs: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat. Currently there are 191 member states.

The Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, and the Secretariat are all responsible for many other bodies, commissions, and committees within the UN system, see the Organization Chart. Of particular interest are the autonomous organizations called Specialized Agencies. These include the following: ILO, FAO, UNESCO, WHO, World Bank Group, IMF, ICAO, IMO, ITU, UPU, WMO, WIPO, IFAD, UNIDO. Each specialized agency has its own membership and a country is not a member of these organizations even it it is a member of the UN. All these organizations have their own governing bodies, budgets and secretariats

In addition to these 14 organizations, there are a a number of UN offices, programmes and funds - such as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

UN Room

The UCB Law Library is unique of our United Nations Room dedicated to legal research using documents and publications by the UN as well as secondary sources about the organization. While not a UN depository (that is over at the main library), our UN Room is an invaluable resource for doing international legal research. Wiltrud Harms, the UN specialist, is available to provide reference help from 11:30 - 5:30, Monday through Friday. When Wiltrud is not available, see Marci or one of the reference librarians for assistance.

Research Guides and Bibliographies

Research guides and bibliographies can provide good information for the person starting UN research. Listed below are a few sources which deal with the UN specifically, but they may also be helpful for research on other intergovernmental organizations. See LawCat for other guides or bibliographies under the subjects united nations--bibliography or international organization--bibliography.

Accidental Tourist on the New Frontier: An Introductory Guide to Global Legal Research (Littleton, CO: Rothman, 1997) [Reference Desk K85 .A27 1997].  See chapter 7.

B. Brimmer, L. Wall, W. Chamberlin, & T. Hovet, Jr., A Guide to the Use of United Nations Documents(Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana, 1962) [K20.I6 B857 1962].

M. Cohen & R. Berring, How to Find the Law (9th ed., St. Paul, MN: West, 1989) [Reference Desk & Loan Desk KF240 .C651 1989]. See pages 496-504.

C. Germain, Germain's Transnational Law Research (Ardsley-on-Hudson, NY: Transnational Juris Publishers, 1991-) [Loan Desk K29 .G47]. See IV-346.

Guide to International Legal Research (4th ed., Newark, N.J.: LexisNexis Matthew Bender, 2002) [Reference Desk KZ1234 .G85 2002].

P. Hajnal, Guide to United Nations Organization, Documentation and Publishing for Students, Researchers, Librarians (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana, 1978) [UN Room KJ61.A15 H35].

International Information: Documents, Publications, and Information Systems of International Governmental Organizations (2 vols., P. Hajnal ed., Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1988) [KZ4850 .I58 1988].  See chapter 2 on the UN.

Introduction to International Organizations (Louis-Jacques and Korman eds., New York: Oceana Publications, 1996) [Loan Desk KJ41 .I62 1996]. See pps. 207-391.

Web Guides:

ASIL Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law: United Nations

A very good research guide on electronic sources for the UN.

United Nations Documentation: Research Guide

This guide was prepared by the UN Dag Hammarskjöld Library.

United Nations Documents and Publications(Stanford)

A good basic guide to UN documents. Keep in mind that the call numbers do not apply to our law library.

United Nations Scholars' Workstation at Yale University

The United Nations Scholars' Workstation, developed by the Yale University Library and the Social Science Statistical Laboratory, is a collection of texts, finding aids, data sets, maps, and pointers to print and electronic information. Subject coverage includes disarmament, economic and social development, environment, human rights, international relations, international trade, peacekeeping, and population and demography.

United Nations System Pathfinder
Research Guide: The United Nations (Columbia University)
Research Guides (Duke Law Library)
How to Find UN Documents (Harvard Law Library)
Research Guide to League of Nations Documents and Publications (Northwestern University)

Background Information

The Law Library collects many books on the UN and its relationship to international law.  Search LawCat using keywords or the subject heading united nations to locate these materials. Periodicals are another excellent source of information. Consult the Journal Literature section of this guide for more information.

About the United Nations. Introduction to the structure and work of the UN.

Annual Review of United Nations Affairs (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana, 1957-) [UN Room KZ4945 .A66]. ARUNA provides the text of important documents from the five key UN bodies.

Basic Facts About the United Nations (New York: United Nations, 1983-) [UN Room KZ4970 .B37]. Handbook providing brief information.

Bennett, Historical Dictionary of the United Nations (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1995) [UN Room KZ4969 .B46 1995]. Provides basic definitions.

Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary (Simma ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 2002) [Loan Desk KZ4991 .C48 2002]. The best source for commentary on the UN Charter.

Conforti, The Law and Practice of the United Nations (The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2000) [UN Room KZ4986 .C6613 2000]. Legal analysis of membership, structure, origins, and practice.

Europa World Year Book (London: Europa Publications Limited, 1989-) [Reference Desk K5 .E89]. Provides very detailed information about the UN and it's bodies and specialized agencies.

Everyone's United Nations (New York: United Nations, 1979-) [UN Room U.N.Doc [ST/]DPI/ Z/ 3]. Describes the structure, history, and procedures of the United Nations organs and specialized agencies; contains text of the Charter of the United Nations, the Statute of the International Court of Justice, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; covers over 20 years.

Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law (United Kingdom: Kluwer Law International, 1998-) [UN Room KZ4951 .M3]. Focuses on the activities of the UN in the field of international law.

Osmancyzk, Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements(3rd ed., New York: Routledge, 2003) [KZ4968 .O84 2003]. This four-volume set provides brief explanations of terms related to the United Nations as well as international law and economics. Provides full text of some documents plus full citations to documents.

Parry and Grant, Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law (2nd ed., Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, 2004) [Reference Desk KJ27 .E52]. Short articles on international law, including treaties and international organizations. 

United Nations Handbook (Wellington: New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1961-) [Reference Desk & UN Room KZ4970 .U65]. Provides up to date information on all of the organs of the UN as well as the specialized agencies. Good source for information on the purpose and structure of a particular body or agency. 

The United Nations: Law and Practice (The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2001) [UN Room KZ4970 .U64 2001]. This single volume provides useful information on the historical and legal framework for activities of the UN.

The United Nations System and its Predecessors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997) [UN Room KZ4970 .S9613 1997]. Collection of important documents, including some League of Nations materials.

United States Participation in the United Nations: Report by the President to the Congress for the Year... (Washington, DC: Bureau of International Organization Affairs, 1975-) [UN Room KZ4997.5 .U55 U56]. Describes the participation of the U.S. in the UN.

Yearbook of the United Nations (New York: United Nations, 1946/47-) [UN Room KZ4947]. Detailed history for one year. Includes full text of resolutions and gives useful references to important reports and documents.  Many UN bodies and institutions issue their own yearbooks, such as Yearbook of the International Law Commission.

UN Chronicle (New York: United Nations Dept. of Public Information, 1975-) [UN Room KZ4945 .U63; from 1/83-1/92 on LEXIS]. Good source for current information and also provides cites to important resolutions and documents. An online edition is also available.

Documents and Publications

There are four basic types of UN documents: periodicals, sales publications, mimeographed/masthead documents, and official records. Periodicals (like the UN Chronicle) can be located by searching the indexes mentioned in this guide. Sales publications include yearbooks and annuals (Yearbook of the United Nations and Yearbook on Human Rights) serials, monographs and special studies. Mimeographed documents include provisional records of meetings, reports, resolutions, and other working documents of the UN organs. Some are republished in final corrected form in the official records or sales publications. Official records contain the meeting records of the UN organs (usually summary records, with the exception of the records of General Assembly and First Committee and Security Council meetings which are verbatim—"proces-verbaux"), annexes contain the text of agenda items (papers submitted to the organs for discussion), and supplements contain reports of subsidiary organs and resolutions. For more information on documents, see the section above on research guides.

UN Legal Documentation

An excellent overview United Nations legal materials is contained in the United Nations Documentation: Research Guide, International Law chapter. "The chapter defines the principal UN bodies working in the area of international law; identifies the document series symbols attached to their working documents, as well as the major types of documents and publications they produce; and gives some basic tips for conducting topical searches in the Library's online database UNBISnet." (See Andersen, Where to Begin...When You Don't Know How to Start: Tips for Researching UN Legal Materials, 31 Int'l J. Legal Info. 264 (2003).) The principal legal bodies of the UN are the Sixth Committee of the General Assembly, the International Law Commission, and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). Use UNBISnet to locate documents and publications on law-related topics.

The web is a viable vehicle for locating the full text of selected documents. See the UN Documentation Centre for access to documents from the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretariat, the ICJ, and the Trusteeship Council. Not all UN documents are available from this site.

Document Symbols

Most UN documents collections are arranged by the document symbol. The basic principle is that documents are identified by the issuing body. The symbols are composed of capital letters and numbers. The first letter(s) indicates the main body of the UN (A/ is the General Assembly, E/ is ECOSOC, etc.). Specific symbols after the first slash indicate the sub-body within the main body (/CN is a commission, /WP is working party, etc.).

The classification system of the United Nations is explained (with lists of the abbreviations) in many of the research guides mentioned above (for example Guide to International Legal Research). The UNDOC: Current Index (UN Room KZ4935 .U54) lists new document symbols. See also the Document Symbols section of the UN web site.

Document Indexes

In order to locate a relevant UN document, you need the document symbol. Use indexes to locate the relevant documents and symbols.

United Nations Documents Index (UNDI) (1950-62) (New York, NY: United Nations). [UN Room]. Indexed documents of specialized agencies; subject index leads to entry number; entry number in documents list gives document symbol and bibliographic information. (v.1-13).

United Nations Documents Index (UNDI) (1963-1973) (New York, NY: United Nations). [UN Room]. Omits coverage of specialized agency documents; subject index provides the document symbol and document symbol in documents list gives bibliographic information.

UNDEX (1973-1978) (New York, NY: United Nations). Issued in three series: A = subject index, B = country index [UN Room] and C = list of documents issued. Series C was commercially published: UNDEX Series "C" Cumulative Edition 1974-77 and supplement 1978 [UN Room].

UNDOC: Current Index (1979-1996) (New York, NY: United Nations) [UN Room]. Provides access by subject, author, and title. Provides comprehensive bibliographic information for documents; a list of Official Records and sales publications; a list of documents republished in the Official Records; and a list of new document series symbols. Issued quarterly in paper format and cumulated annually on fiche starting with 1984.

United Nations Documents Index (1998- ) (New York, NY: United Nations) [UN Room]. Issued quarterly, this index provides broad subject access to UN documents. The online version is UNBISnet (see below).

AccessUN is an electronic index to United Nations documents including Official Records, masthead documents, draft resolutions, meeting records, UN Sales Publications, and the UN Treaty Series citations. Also includes the full-text of several thousand UN documents. Covers 1944 to 2003 (UCB only).

An index available from the UN Dag Hammarskjöld Library is called UN-I-QUE (UN Info Quest).  It is a database designed to provide quick access to document symbols/sales numbers for UN materials (1946 to present).  Full bibliographic information is not provided, AccessUN or UNBISnet for this information.

A valuable index of UN publications and publications held in the two main UN libraries, since 1979 (or earlier for selected documents), is UNBISnet- UN Bibliographic Information System. Provides for bibliographic searching of the catalogue of UN publications and documents, indexed by the main UN libraries. Voting records and speeches can also be searched. UN resolutions of the principal organs are indexed herein from 1946 to present. Some records are linked to the full-text of the document (usually in PDF).

Indexes to Proceedings of the ... (General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, and Trusteeship Council) [UN Room]. These indexes provide subject access to all of the documents issued by the individual body during a particular session/year. To locate on LawCat, search using the subject United Nations. [name of body]-- Proceedings--Indexes.

Resolutions

Resolutions of the major organs of the United Nations are printed in various sources. In official sources, they first appear as mimeographed documents (with "RES" as part of the document symbol; for example, A/RES/48/100 or S/RES/967) (mimeographed documents are available in the International Reference Office or in the microfiche collection in International Media). These mimeographed documents are then republished in the Official Records of each organ. The Bluebook requires a citation to the Official Record.

General Assembly

General Assembly resolutions are compiled in the last supplement of its official records. These materials are complete in the microfiche set as well. Resolutions can be located in the following places.

Official Records. Supplement (New York: United Nations, 1946-) [UN Room KZ5010.2].

Resolutions and Decisions Adopted by the General Assembly... (New York: United Nations, 1976-) [UN Room KZ5010.2]. This press release is sometimes available 7-8 months before the official record supplement.

Yearbook of the United Nations (New York: United Nations, 1946/47-) [UN Room KZ4947]. There is an "index of resolutions and decisions" which refers to the page where the full text of resolutions and decisions are reproduced (access is by resolution number). The Yearbook also has a subject index and a personal names index.

United Nations Resolutions. Series 1: Resolutions Adopted by the General Assembly (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, 1946-1998) [UN Room KZ5006.2 .U55]. Reprints resolutions.

AccessUN is an electronic index to United Nations documents including Official Records, masthead documents, draft resolutions, meeting records, UN Sales Publications, and the UN Treaty Series citations. Also includes the full-text of several thousand UN documents. Covers 1944 to 2003 (UCB only).

UNBISnet indexes and links to the full text of General Assembly resolutions from 1946 to present.

The UN Documentation Centre web site provides access to the full text of General Assembly resolutions from 1946-2003.

A good place to locate resolutions is through the United Nations Documentation: Research Guide. See the full-text options section.

See also ASIL Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law: United Nations.

Security Council

The resolutions of the Security Council appear in an unnumbered supplement to its official records. It contains a list of resolutions and decisions by number and the page where the full text will be found. Unlike GA resolutions, SC resolutions are numbered in one continuous sequence since 1946. Resolutions can be located in the following places.

Official Records. Supplement (New York: United Nations, 1946-) [UN Room].

Resolutions and Decisions of the Security Council [UN Room KZ5030].

Resolutions and Statements of the United Nations Security Council (1946-2000): a Thematic Guide (2nd ed., Dordrecht: M. Nijhoff Publishers, 1993) [UN Room KZ5036 .R47 2001].

Yearbook of the United Nations (New York: United Nations, 1946/47-) [UN Room KZ4947]. There is an "index of resolutions and decisions" which refers to the page where the full text of resolutions and decisions are reproduced (access is by resolution number). The Yearbook also has a subject index and a personal names index.

AccessUN is an electronic index to United Nations documents including Official Records, masthead documents, draft resolutions, meeting records, UN Sales Publications, and the UN Treaty Series citations. Also includes the full-text of several thousand UN documents. Covers 1944 to 2003 (UCB only).

UNBISnet indexes and links to the full text of Security Council resolutions from 1946 to present.

The UN Documentation Centre web site provides access to the full text of Security Council resolutions from 1946-2004.

A good place to locate resolutions is through the United Nations Documentation: Research Guide.

See also ASIL Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law: United Nations.  

There are also compilations of resolutions by subject, including Human Rights: A Compilation of International Instruments [UN Room KZ5114 .H85 2002].

Resolutions are published in the first numbered supplement of the official records of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and of the Trusteeship Council. Some ECOSOC documents and resolutions are available on the UN web site. See also UNBISnet for access to Economic and Social Council resolutions from 1946 to present.

The United Nations published cumulative indexes to its early resolutions of United Nations:

Index to Resolutions of the General Assembly, 1946-1970 (New York: United Nations, 1981) [UN Room KZ5006 .I65 1972].

Index to Resolutions of the Security Council, 1946-1970 (New York : United Nations, 1973) [UN Room KZ5006.5 .I65 1973].

Index to Resolutions of the Security Council, 1946-1991 (New York : United Nations, 1992) [UN Room KZ5006.5 .I65 1992].

Index to Resolutions of the Security Council, 1946-1996 (New York: United Nations, 1997) [UN Room KZ5006.5 .I65 1997].

Resolutions and Statements of the United Nations Security Council (1946-2000): A Thematic Guide (The Hague; New York: Kluwer Law International, 2001) [UN Room KZ5006.5 .R47 2001].

Treaties

For more information on locating treaties, see the Researching Treaties and International Agreements guide for this class.  See also the ASIL Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law, Treaties.

United Nations Treaty Series: Treaties and International Agreements Registered or Filed and Recorded with the Secretariat of the United Nations (UNTS). (New York: United Nations, 1998) [North Reading Room KJ179.U58 TS]. Contains both bilateral and multilateral treaties in the language of the original treaty as well as English and French if needed. Keep in mind that this is an extremely slow publication. The UN makes the full text of many UN treaties as well as new treaties available on the web by subscription at the United Nations Treaty Collection (UCB only) .

United Nations Treaty Series - Cumulative Indexes (New York: United Nations, 1998-) [North Reading Room KJ179.U58 TS]. Volumes are published every 50 volumes of the UNTS and are not cumulative. The publication of the index volumes is even slower than the actual treaties volumes. Some of the cumulative indexes are available on the United Nations Treaty Collection (UCB only) .

Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary General (New York: United Nations, 1968-1980) [UN Room & Reference Desk KZ4992.7 .M85]. This is a very useful tool for locating the citation to a treaty (often including cites to conference proceedings if the treaty is not yet available in UNTS). It is published every year and is cumulative. The participating parties with the dates of signature and ratification are also included. This source is also available on the web (and updated much more frequently) as the United Nations Treaty Collection (UCB only).

United Nations Cumulative Treaty Index (Buffalo, NY: W.S. Hein, 1999-) [North Reading Room KJ179.U58 TS Index]. A 15 volume index that is much more detailed than the UNTS official index. There are several other useful treaty indexes available which also provide citations to treaties located in UNTS:

Multilateral Treaties: Index and Current Status (Bowman and Harris, eds., London: Butterworths, 1984-) [Reference Desk KJ211 .M84].

Rohn, World Treaty Index (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1983) [Reference Desk KJ173 .R6 1983] covers from 1900-1980.

Treaties in Force (Washington, DC: Office of the Legal Advisor, 1929-) [Reference Desk & UN Room KZ235 .T74].

Wiktor, Multilateral Treaty Calendar = Répertoire des Traités Multilatéraux,1648-1995 (The Hague, The Netherlands: M. Nijhoff Publishers, 1998) [Reference Desk & Stacks KZ118 .M85 1998].

Some treaties are available full-text on LEXIS (INTLAW library) and WESTLAW.

Collections of multilateral treaties are accessible full text through many UN and specialized agency web sites (this is a sampling of what is available):

International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice (or World Court) is the principle judicial organ of the United Nations. The ICJ Statute is an annex to the Charter of the United Nations. For more assistance with ICJ documents, see Germain's International Court of Justice Research Guide. To locate books about the ICJ, do a subject search using International Court of Justice.

Reports of Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders ([Netherlands]: Société d'éditions A.W. Sijthoff, 1947-). [KJ327.A5 H3] Published in both French and English, 1947-.

Pleadings, Oral Arguments, Documents (Leyden : Sijthoff, 1949-) [KJ327 .A8]. Motions, briefs, and oral arguments, 1947-.

Yearbook (Hague, Netherlands: The Court, 1947-) [KJ327.A4 Y4]. Contains summaries of judgments, advisory opinions and orders of the Court, 1947-.

Digest of the Decisions of the International Court of Justice (Berlin ; New York : Springer, 1978) [KJ327.A6 D54]. Summaries of cases, covers 1959-1975.

Digest of the Decisions of the International Court of Justice, 1976-1985 (Berlin; New York: Springer-Verlag, 1978) [KJ327.A6 D54].

Répertoire de la Jurisprudence de la Cour internationale de justice (1947-1992) = Repertory of Decisions of the International Court of Justice (1947-1992) (2 vols., Dordrecht; Boston: M. Nijhoff; Norwell, MA, U.S.A., 1995) [KJ327.A6 Z5].

World Court Digest (Berlin ; New York: Springer, 1993-) The first volume covers 1976-1985. [KJ327.A6 D541]. See the Max Planck web site for the an electronic version of the World Court Digest.

World Court Reference Guide: Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders of the Permanent Court of International Justice and the International Court of Justice (1922-2000) (Hague; New York: Kluwer Law International, 2002) [KZ200.5 .W67 2002].

International Law Reports (London: Butterworth, 1919-) [KJ313 .I61 ILR]. Republishes judgments with citations to the official ICJ set.

Full-text judgments are available on WESTLAW in the INT-ICJ database from 1947 to date.

Web Sites:

For judgments, documents, etc. from the Permanent Court of International Justice, conduct an author search on LawCat using Permanent Court of International Justice.

Other Tribunals

Decisions and documents from other international courts (under the authority of the UN) include the sites listed below.  See also the United Nations Documentation: Research Guide on International Law for guidance on researching these tribunals.

The Law Library collects many of the print resources for these tribunals as well as books and materials about these bodies. Search LawCat using the tribunal name as a keyword, an author, or a subject.

Citing to UN Documents

Obtaining proper citations for UN documents can be challenging. The Bluebook wants you to use citations to the official records, but these can be difficult to locate and slow to publication. See rules 21.7 et seq. for how to cite to most UN documents. The ICJ is covered under rule 21.5.1 of The Bluebook. See also Table 3.

Journal Literature

Journal literature is a good way to information on the United Nations, find a treaty citation, the meaning of a term, figure out what an abbreviation stands for, etc. See the Sources for Locating Journal Articles guide for this class for more information on researching journal articles.

Current Awareness

UN Chronicle

Good source for current information and also provides cites to important resolutions and documents.   Selected articles are available on the web.

UN News

This web page provides access to the Daily Journal, press releases, briefings, etc.

What's New on the UN Web site

To keep abreast of new documents and information on the UN web site, check the "What's New" feature on a regular basis.

Documents Alert

This is a service of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library to identify important documents that have been issued recently.

UN Wire

An Independent news briefing about the UN. Daily news summary sponsored by the UN Foundation.

Other Web Sites

The web is a valuable source for locating UN materials. By using the addresses mentioned in the section on resolutions above, you can locate press releases, the UN Daily Journal, reports and documents from various bodies, committees, specialized agencies, and conferences. There are many web sites for UN and related agencies. Listed below are some sites which are good starting points. Many of the documents prepared before and after UN conferences are now available on the web even before they are issued in paper.

Official UN Homepage

From here you can access specialized topical pages, such as: International Law, Peace and Security, Economic and Social Development, Human Rights, and Humanitarian Affairs.

Official Web Site Locator for the United Nations System

Provides alphabetical and thematic indexes of UN web sites).

United Nations Dept. of Public Information
UNCITRAL
World Map of UN WEb Sites

 

Specialized Agencies

FAO
ICAO
IFAD
ILO
IMF
ITU
IMO
UNESCO
UNIDO
UPU
WHO
WIPO
WMO
World Bank

 

Other Related Web Sites

League of Nations Statistical and Disarmament Documents

A digital collection of 260 full-text League of Nations Documents.

Inter-Governmental Organizations

Includes links to many UN bodies.

UNWatch

 

Prepared by Marci Hoffman, Foreign and International Law Librarian, UC Berkeley Law Library. Prepared March 2004.

Last edited by Michael Lindsey, 19 June 2013