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United Nations Research: U.N. Basics

What is the United Nations?

The main bodies of the United Nations are the U.N. General Assembly, Security Council, Secretariat, and International Court of Justice. There are numerous U.N. entities, programmes, and agencies that produce documents used in international law research, including UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), and the OHCHR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights).  The United Nations website has resources with descriptions and links to U.N. organizations:

U.N. Documents & Classification System

Below are short definitions for the numerous U.N. documents:

  • Resolutions: formal expressions of the opinion or will of UN organs
  • Documents: Text submitted to a principal organ for consideration
  • Publication: Any written material issued by the UN to the general public
  • Fascicle: Any division of a book published separately
  • Official records: Major set of documents originating from UN principal organs (meeting records, supplements, annexes)
  • Supplements: Reports prepared for consideration at a session by main UN bodies.  Also include reports of subsidiary organs, annual reports of UN agencies.  Resolutions and decisions are included as the final supplement.
  • Meeting records
  • Verbatim (PV): Records of plenary meetings of the General Assembly or Security Council issued as a printed fascicle, cumulated in volumes
  • Summary records: Meeting records of the main committees issued in final form for each meeting
  • Annexes: Compilations of documents relating to specific agenda items, important documents discussed in plenary meetings.

The U.N. also has its own classifcation system (see UN Research Guide to Documentation Symbols) with a few frequently-cited symbols below:

  • A/  General Assembly
  • S/  Security Council
  • E/  Economic and Social Council
  • ST/  Secretariat
  • -/C  Standing or permanent committee
  • -/CN  Commission
  • -/CONF.  Conference
  • -/WG  Working Group
  • -/L  Limited distribution (drafts)
  • -/PRST/  Statements by President of the Security Council
  • -/PV  Verbatim records of meetings
  • -/R Restricted distribution
  • -/RES/  Resolutions
  • -/SR  Summary Records of meetings
  • -/WP  Working Papers
  • -/Add.  Addendum
  • -/Rev. Revision

U.N. Research Guides

Following are other U.N. research guides for starting your research:

Subject Guide