Hester Swift, May 2013
We also recommend the following online research guides for international law.
The United Nations (UN) was established in 1945 after the collapse of its forerunner, the League of Nations. Its purpose is to safeguard international peace and security, to promote justice and international law, to protect human rights and to foster cooperation between sovereign states in tackling social and economic problems worldwide. Participation is now almost universal, with 193 member states.
The Library of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) has a good collection of scholarly commentary on the work of the UN. It also holds documentation produced by the UN, but only where it is of legal interest; larger collections of UN documentation can be found at UN depositories and on the UN website.
This research guide is structured by type of source - treaties, cases, books and so on - rather than by subject. For an introduction to researching the work of the UN in the particular areas of law, such as human rights, the environment and peace and security, see the research guides produced by the UN's Dag Hammarskjöld Library.
The UN has six principal organs, as laid down in Article 7 of its founding Charter:
As well as the six central institutions of the UN, there are a large number of related bodies: specialised agencies, programmes, offices and funds. Together, the central institutions and other bodies constitute what is known as the 'UN System'.
The specialised agencies are bodies such as the International Labour Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the International Monetary Fund, which are linked to the UN by cooperative agreements. Other entities within the UN System include the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Development Programme.
The scope of this research guide is largely restricted to the core UN institutions. However, IALS does hold some materials relating to parts of the wider UN System, where they are of legal interest - see Library Catalogue.
Further information about the UN System can be found on the UN website.
The Charter of the United Nations is the UN's founding document, signed at San Francisco on 26 June 1945. It has since been amended several times (see Introductory Note to Charter, on UN website).
The Statute of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is annexed to the Charter and is deemed to be an integral part of it. So far the Statute has not been amended (see ICJ website).
The official original versions of the Charter and Statute were published in Documents of the United Nations Conference on International Organization, San Francisco, 1945, volume 15 (published by the United Nations Information Organizations, 1945-55), held at IALS.
For amended versions of the Charter, see Charter of the United Nations, statute and rules of court and other documents (International Court of Justice, 2007), or Blackstone's International Law Documents (10th ed., Oxford University Press, 2011). Both are held at IALS.
The original text of both Charter and Statute may be found in volume 1 of the Yearbook of the United Nations, which is available on the UN website. An amended version of the Charter is also on the UN website, with an introductory note. The Statute is on the ICJ website.
The Charter and Statute are also on the subscription database HeinOnline, as follows:
UN Law Collection, Documents of the United Nations Conference...(vol. 15) (original text)
UN Law Collection, Handbook on the peaceful settlement of disputes between states (Charter as amended).
Treaties and Agreements Library (3 Bevans 1153, with the first two sets of amendments to the Charter, but not the third).
HeinOnline is available to IALS Library's readers via the Electronic Law Library.
Commentaries on the Charter and Statute
Several commentaries are held by IALS Library, including:
Bardo Fassbender, The United Nations Charter as the constitution of the international community (Brill, Leiden, 2009).
A Zimmerman, C Tomuschat and K Oellers-Frahm (eds), The Statute of the International Court of Justice : a commentary (2nd ed., Oxford University Press, 2012)
Bruno Simma (ed), The Charter of the United Nations: a commentary ( 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, Oxford 2012)
See Catalogue for other titles.
Under article 102 of the UN Charter, all treaties in which UN member states participate, both bilateral and multilateral, have to be registered with the Secretary-General, who must then publish them. The purpose of this requirement is to avoid secret diplomacy.
The Secretary-General also has a separate treaty function, as depositary for more than 500 multilateral treaties. These are either treaties of worldwide interest, or treaties drawn up under the aegis of UN regional commissions and open to their entire membership. Detailed information about the depositary function can be found in Summary of practice of the Secretary-General as depositary of multilateral treaties (United Nations,1994), available at IALS Library; 1999 reissue on UN Treaty Collection website).
The United Nations Treaty Series and League of Nations Treaty Series
Treaties registered with the Secretary-General under article 102 are published in the United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS), in the original language, with translations into English and French if necessary. However, the Regulations on the application of article 102 provide that the Secretariat may decide not to publish certain types of treaty in full (A/RES/97(I), as amended by A/RES/364(IV), A/RES/482(V) and A/RES/33/141). Treaties registered with the League of Nations were published in the League of Nations Treaty Series (LNTS).
IALS has the United Nations Treaty Series from volume 1 (1946) to volume 2174 (2002), after which our print subscription was cancelled. It is held in offsite storage, from where it can be retrieved within 72 hours. The whole series is available on the UN Treaty Collection website and in HeinOnline's UN Law Collection (see IALS Electronic Law Library).
The entire League of Nations Treaty Series (1920-1946) is held in offsite storage, from where it can be retrieved within 72 hours. It is also on the UN Treaty Collection website and HeinOnline.
There is a substantial time-lag before a new treaty appears in the UNTS, so other sources often have to be used. Multilaterals for which the UN is the depositary should be available in the UN Treaty Collection under Texts of Recently Deposited Multilateral Treaties. To find alternative sources for other treaties, see the IALS Library research guide, Public International Law.
The United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC)
The UN Treaty Collection website provides a very large set of treaties and related information. It includes the following, under 'Databases':
UNTS Database: all the treaties published in the UN Treaty Series, with status information
LNTS Database: all the treaties published in the League of Nations Treaty Series, with status information
MTDSG (Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General): detailed information about the treaties for which the UN Secretary General is the official depositary (does not cover all UN-registered treaties), including:
Status of Treaties: online version of the annual publication, Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General, which lists signatures and ratifications and gives the full text of reservations, declarations and so on; the UNTC version has links to each treaty (click on book icon). Print edition in IALS 1967 - 2006; also in HeinOnline's UN Law Collection.
Depositary Notifications (2001 - ): notices relating to the opening of treaties for signature, ratifications, withdrawals and so on.
Certified True Copies (CTCs) of Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General: the Secretary-General is required to send certified copies of each deposited treaty to all the parties (see ch. 4 of Summary of practice) and these copies are made available here for reference purposes; however, this section of the website is under development.
Titles and Recent Texts: deposited treaties which have not yet been published in the UNTS.
MS Database: online version of the monthly Statement of Treaties and International Agreements Registered or Filed and Recorded with the Secretariat (1998 to date): lists treaties recently registered by UN member states, giving title, date of conclusion, date and method of entry into force; annexes cover ratifications, accessions and other treaty actions. Print edition has annual cumulative indexes in each December issue (up to and including December 1997 only). Printed version in IALS 1978-July 2009; on HeinOnline 1983 to date
The LNTS has a cumulative index. The UNTS has an index for every fifty volumes, but these are not cumulative, so it is easier to search the UN Treaty Collection website or HeinOnline's UN Law Collection.
Other treaty indexes include:
This section covers the Permanent Court of International Justice, the International Court of Justice and the international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia. For an introduction to the International Criminal Court and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (which are independent bodies), see the Dag Hammarskjöld Library's International law research guide. For information about the Special Court for Sierra Leone, see its website.
International Court of Justice (ICJ)
The International Court of Justice publishes its decisions in Reports of judgments, advisory opinions and orders; related documentation appears in Pleadings, oral arguments, documents. Both series are held at IALS.
All ICJ decisions are also on the ICJ website, together with press releases detailing the filing of new cases and other developments. All ICJ cases are on Lexis Library (International Court of Justice Decisions Combined) and Westlaw (database code INT-ICJ).
The ICJ's Statute, rules, practice directions and related materials are published in the irregular series Acts and documents concerning the organization of the Court (in IALS). They are also available on the Basic Documents page of the ICJ website.
Information about the composition, organisation, jurisdiction and rules of the Court can be found in its Yearbook (Sijthoff, 1947 - ). IALS holds the printed volumes. The Yearbook is also on HeinOnline.
Digests of ICJ cases can be found at IALS in the following compilations:
IALS also has the ICJ's annual report, Report of the International Court of Justice, 1968/1969 -1986/1987 only; later issues are on ICJ website.
Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ)
The Permanent Court of International Justice was the forerunner of the ICJ; it was active from 1922 to 1946. It published its documentation in the series Publications of the Permanent Court of International Justice (all held at IALS), as follows:
IALS Library also has Series D, Acts and documents concerning the organisation of the court; Series E, annual report...; and Series F, General index of the publications of the Court.
Digests of PCIJ case law can be found in the following titles, all held at IALS:
The International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) publishes its decisions in the series Judicial reports, (Kluwer Law International, c1999- ), which is held at IALS. There is a time-lag of several years before new cases appear; the website has more recent ones - see below.
The ICTY's shortlived Yearbook published reports on the work of the Tribunal, indictments, speeches, lists of documents produced by the Tribunal and other information. IALS has it from 1995 to 1998; it ceased publication with the 1999 volume.
IALS has many of the Rwanda Tribunal's decisions, together with constitutional documents,rules, and a large number of other documents, on two CD-ROMs, Basic documents and case law (1995-2006), compiled by the Tribunal's Legal Library.
Selected decisions from both tribunals can be found in two titles held at IALS:
Case indexes and other research tools
Bimal N Patel, 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) (Kluwer Law International, 2002). Detailed one-volume compilation of procedural and legal information about all ICJ and PCIJ decisions in the period covered. Has indexes by article number of the League of Nations Covenant, the PCIJ and ICJ Statutes and rules and the UN Charter; also has basic subject indexes and indexes of treaties and arbitral awards cited. Held at IALS.
The ICJ website has lists of contentious cases, advisory proceedings and pending cases,plus a complete list of past cases (contentious and advisory).
Bibliography of the International Court of Justice (The Court, 1947- ). IALS has issues 1 to 49, covering 1946 to 1995.
Publications of the Permanent Court of International Justice. Series F, General index of the publications of the Court, series A, B and C (A.W. Sijthoff, 1927-1938). Held at IALS.
Bibliographical list of official and unofficial publications concerning the Permanent Court of International Justice. (The Court, 1926-1946). Held at IALS.
The UN has produced the series Reports of international arbitral awards (RIAA) since 1948. It is a collection of decisions made in international arbitration cases; originally it was confined to arbitration between states, but later the policy was extended to include arbitration between international organisations and states; commercial arbitration is excluded, however.
The reports are in either English or French, with summaries in both languages. Awards made prior to the foundation of the UN are included in the series. Forthcoming volumes will extend retrospective coverage back to the late eighteenth century.
Apart from treaties and court documentation, IALS holds other UN official publications of legal interest, but it is not a UN depository. For UN materials not held at IALS, try the UN Official Document System, or refer to a depository library. The UN's Dag Hammarskjöld Library gives detailed guidance on finding different types of official document in its research guide.
Document reference numbers
The UN identifies its official documents by a system of 'document symbols' consisting of letters and numbers, for example 'A/S-19/29' or 'S/2013/140'. The Dag Hammarskjöld Library's research guide has an explanation of these symbols.
Many UN documents can be found online by entering the document symbol into the ODS search screen.
General Assembly resolutions are all on the GA's website and also available via the ODS, 1946 onwards. In printed form, they can be found in the UN publication Resolutions and decisions adopted by the General Assembly; an online version of this can be found in HeinOnline's UN Law Collection) and IALS also has the printed edition.
Security Council resolutions are all on the Security Council's website and also available via the ODS, from 1946 onwards. In printed form, they appear in the UN publication Resolutions and decisions of the Security Council; this is not held at IALS, but we do have a collection published by Oceana, United Nations resolutions. Series 2, Resolutions and decisions of the Security Council, compiled and edited by Dusan J. Djonovich.
Economic and Social Council resolutions are all on its website and also available via the ODS, from 1946 onwards.
See also: the Yearbook of the United Nations, which reproduces significant resolutions of the Security Council, General Assembly and Economic and Social Council. The whole Yearbook series is on the UN website (it is not held at IALS).
Principal organs (such as the General Assembly) and other bodies may produce either verbatim or summary records of what was said at their meetings. Records are not published for all UN meetings, however. Verbatim records are denoted by 'PV' in the document symbol and summary records by 'SR'.
IALS Library does not hold meeting records, but they are available online or in depository libraries - see below.
Meeting records are also produced by other UN bodies: for further information about meeting records, see the Dag Hammarskjöld Library's research guides.
All the voting records of the General Assembly (GA) and Security Council are on the internet, from the first sessions onwards, via UNBISnet.
GA voting records are published by the UN in Resolutions and decisions adopted by the General Assembly (formerly Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly), from the 1st session (1946) onwards. This series is held at IALS, with some gaps.
For older votes - of both the GA and the Security Council- see Djonovich, United Nations resolutions: Series 1, Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly (1946-1985/86) and Series 2, Resolutions and decisions of the Security Council (1946-1978/79), published by Oceana and held at IALS.
There is a convenient chronological collection of General Assembly declarations on the GA website, 1948 to date.
United Nations Legislative Series (1951 - )
This is a series of compilations of national laws on particular topics, for example, National Laws and Regulations on the Prevention and Suppression of International Terrorism. It is in HeinOnline's UN Law Collection (see IALS Electronic Law Library); printed volumes are also available at IALS (see Catalogue).
UN document indexes and research tools
UN Official Document System (ODS): full-text database of UN documents, including resolutions, the verbatim records of the General Assembly and many other types of document. Goes back to 1993, generally speaking, but includes resolutions back to 1946 (and other pre-1993 documents are being added); does not include the UN Treaty Series.
UNBISnet: an online index to UN documents and publications going back to 1979 (earlier for some important document types), with links to a large number of full-text documents. It includes voting records. Produced by the Dag Hammarskjöld Library and the Library of the UN's Geneva Office.
UN-I-QUE: a database of answers to frequently-asked questions about UN documentation, with links to full-text sources, where available. Produced by the Dag Hammarskjöld Library.
Dag Hammarskjöld Library, United Nations document series symbols, 1946-1996 (United Nations, New York 1998): index to UN documents by document symbol, subject, corporate author and series title. (Printed version held at IALS.)
IALS has a good collection of treatises on the work of the UN and its agencies, as well as numerous commentaries on UN conventions.
Selection of other works
William A. Schabas, The UN international criminal tribunals: the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone (Cambridge University Press, c2006)
Many other relevant titles may be found on the Library Catalogue.
Among the very numerous international law periodicals held at IALS, the following are of particular relevance for UN research:
Yearbook on Human Rights: in HeinOnline's UN Law Collection (via IALS Electronic Law Library); print edition in IALS 1946-88.
See the Library Catalogue for other titles, including e-journals.
For guidance on tracing articles about a particular subject, see Finding Journals and Journal Articles at IALS.
IALS has several printed bibliographies relating to the United Nations:
General Assembly: documentation from the General Assembly's 53rd session (1998/99) onwards, meeting schedules, press releases, committee documentation and other information.
International Court of Justice: all ICJ and PCIJ decisions, plus related documents.
Official Document System (ODS): vast database of UN documents, providing all resolutions (1946 to date) and all documentation from plenary sessions of the Security Council (1946 to date), plus other official documents from 1993 onwards.
Security Council: provides resolutions, reports, details of meetings and other information.
UN home page: has links to the main policy areas, news, documents and other key information.
UN international law pages: these cover the work of the International Law Commission, UNCITRAL, the ICJ and the Secretary General as a treaty depositary.
UN Treaty Collection: databases of treaties and related information.
UNBISnet: index to UN official documents from 1979 onwards, with links to the full text from 1993 onwards; includes a database of UN voting records and the Index to Speeches.
Relevant research guides available on the internet include the following: