Hester Swift, June 2018
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 Institute of Advanced Legal Studies Library has documents and publications issued by the UN where they are of legal interest, but it is not a UN depository. A good collection of scholarly commentary on the work of the UN is held, and the library also subscribes to HeinOnline's United Nations Law Collection.
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, or 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:
The General Assembly: a deliberative, policy-making body, in which all member states are represented. It has six main committees, the Sixth Committee being the one which deals with legal matters. The International Law Commission is a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly.
The Security Council: the UN institution primarily responsible for maintaining international peace and security; it has five permanent members, plus ten members elected for two-year terms.
The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC): manages the UN's economic and social development work and draws up policy in this area; has numerous subsidiary bodies, such as the Human Rights Commission, the Commission on Sustainable Development and the Commission on the Status of Women.
The International Court of Justice: the UN's primary judicial body, sometimes known as the World Court; it issues rulings on disputes between states (who participate voluntarily) and gives advisory opinions to the UN and its specialised agencies; its structure, functions and procedures are set out in chapter XIV of the UN Charter, in the Court's Statute, in practice directions and in court rules; non-members of the UN may become parties to the ICJ, or may submit themselves to its jurisdiction in specific cases.
The Secretariat: this is the UN's main administrative organ, staffed by public servants who carry out the day-to-day work of the UN; it is headed by the Secretary-General.
The Trusteeship Council: set up after the Second World War to administer various territories and oversee their transition to self-government; suspended its actitivities in 1994, when the last of the trust territories became independent.
As well as the six central institutions, the UN has a large number of 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, among many others.
The scope of this research guide is largely restricted to the core UN institutions. However, IALS's collections do include som material 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 (Introductory Note, 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 (Basic Documents, 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 (United Nations Information Organizations, 1945-55), which is held at IALS Library.
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, 11th ed. (Oxford University Press, 2013); both are held at IALS.
The original versions of the Charter and Statute are in volume 1 of the Yearbook of the United Nations, which is available on the UN website. An amended version of the Charter is on the UN website, with an introductory note. Charter and Statute are also on the subscription database HeinOnline, as follows:-
HeinOnline UN Law Collection, Documents of the United Nations Conference...(vol. 15) (original text)
HeinOnline UN Law Collection, Handbook on the peaceful settlement of disputes between states (Charter as amended).
HeinOnline Treaties and Agreements Library, as published in 3 Bevans 1153, with the first two sets of amendments to the Charter.
HeinOnline is available to IALS Library members 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, 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, 2012)
See Library Catalogue for other titles.
Under article 102 of the UN Charter, all treaties in which UN member states participate 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, acting as depositary for more than 560 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 where 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 entire League of Nations Treaty Series (1920-1946) and the UN Treaty Series from volume 1 (1946) to volume 2174 (2002); both are held in offsite storage, from where it can be retrieved within 72 hours. Both titles are available on the UN Treaty Collection website and in HeinOnline's UN Law Collection (via IALS Electronic Law Library).
There is a substantial time-lag before a new treaty appears in the UNTS: a treaty may appear first in the national treaty series of one of the parties, or another publication: see IALS Public International Law research guide.
The United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC)
The UN Treaty Collection is a vast library of JN and League of Nations treaties and related information. It includes the following sources (and more):-
UN Treaty Series: searchable database with browseable list of volumes; gives status information for each treaty.
League of Nations Treaty Series: searchable database with browseable list of volumes; gives status information for each treaty.
Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General (MTDSG): this database appears on the UNTC homepage under 'Status of Treaties Deposited...'. It gives detailed information about the 560+ treaties for which the UN Secretary General is the depositary. MTDSG used to be an annual print publication; the annual version is held at IALS 1967 - 2006 and digital versions of it are on HeinOnline.
Monthly Statement: online version of Statement of Treaties and International Agreements Registered or Filed and Recorded with the Secretariat, 1946 to date. Lists treaties recently registered by member states, giving title, date of conclusion, date and method of entry into force; annexes cover ratifications, accessions and other treaty actions. The print edition has annual cumulative indexes in each December issue (up to and including December 1997); it is held at IALS from 1978-July 2009 and is also 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 look UN treaties up in the UN Treaty Collection or in HeinOnline's UN Law Collection. Other treaty indexes include:
This section covers the International Court of Justice (the UN's principal judicial body, sometimes known as the World Court), the Permanent Court of International Justice (forerunner of the ICJ), and the UN international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia; for information about other international courts and tribunals, see Dag Hammarskjöld Library's International Law research guide and IALS Library's Public International Law research guide.
International Court of Justice (ICJ)
The International Court of Justice publishes its decisions in Reports of judgments, advisory opinions and orders and related case documentation appears in Pleadings, oral arguments, documents. Both series are held at IALS Library.
All ICJ decisions are on the ICJ website, together with press releases detailing the filing of new cases and other developments. All ICJ cases are also on Lexis®Library (International Court of Justice Decisions Combined) and Westlaw International Materials ('Administrative Materials' - 'Multi-National').
The Statute of the International Court of Justice, its rules, practice directions and related materials are published in the irregular series Acts and documents concerning the organization of the Court (held at IALS). They are also available via 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 of the Yearbook and it 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; also on ICJ website (1985/86 onwards).
Indexes and bibliographies covering the work of the ICJ include:
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 decisions in the period covered, with indexes by article number of the ICJ Statute and UN Charter, basic subject indexes and indexes of treaties and arbitral awards cited; held at IALS.
Bibliography of the International Court of Justice (The Court, 1947- ). IALS has issues 1 to 49, covering 1946 to 1995.
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 (held at IALS), as follows:-
IALS 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:
Other sources covering the PCIJ include:
Bibliographical list of official and unofficial publications concerning the Permanent Court of International Justice (The Court, 1926-1946); held at IALS.
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 PCIJ decisions, with indexes by article number of the League of Nations Covenant and the PCIJ Statute, basic subject indexes and indexes of treaties and arbitral awards cited; held at IALS.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was active from 1993 until 2017. Its decisions are published in the series Judicial reports (Kluwer/Brill, c.1999- ), which is held at IALS. There is a time-lag of many years before new cases appear in Judicial reports, but the tribunal's website has all its decisions, plus constitutional documents, practice directions, rules and other materials.
Selected ICTY decisions appear in the following sources, all available from IALS Library:
Oxford Reports on International Law: International Criminal Law - an OUP database available via the IALS Electronic Law Library.
Genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity: topical digests of the case law of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (Human Rights Watch, 2004). The Human Rights Watch website provides a downloadable 2006 version of this title covering the Former Yugoslavia only.
For a few years the ICTY's Yearbook published reports on its activities together with indictments, speeches, lists of documents and so on. IALS has the Yearbook from 1995 to 1998; it ceased publication with the 1999 volume.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was active from 1994 until 2015. All its decisions are on the tribunal's legacy website, together with constitutional documents, practice directions, rules and other material.
Selected decisions of the Rwanda tribunal can be found in the following sources, all available at IALS:
Annotated leading cases of International Criminal Tribunals (Intersentia, 1999 - )
Oxford Reports on International Law: International Criminal Law: an OUP online resource available via the IALS Electronic Law Library.
Genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity: topical digests...(Human Rights Watch, 2004). The Human Rights Watch website provides a 2010 version of this title covering Rwanda cases.
The International Law Centre at the Université Libre de Bruxelles compiled the Rwanda Tribunal's decisions up to 2006 under the title International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda: reports of orders, decisions and judgments. Several volumes of this series were published by Bruylant (not held at IALS), then it became an online publication, on the International Law Centre's website.
IALS Library also has the CD-ROM collection, Basic documents and case law (1995-2006), consisting of the tribunal's decisions, constitutional documents, rules, and other material, compiled by the Rwanda Tribunal's Legal Library.
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, excluding commercial arbitration. 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.
Information about finding key types of UN document is given below. A UN document is defined as a text submitted to a principal or subsidiary organ of the UN for consideration by it (such as a resolution), as against a UN 'publication', which is material intended for the public (for example, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Women and the right to adequate housing. United Nations, 2012).
For further information about UN documentation, see the research guide produced by the UN's Dag Hammarskjöld Library.
The UN identifies its documents by a system of 'symbols' consisting of letters and numbers, for example 'A/66/L.38' or 'S/2013/140' (see Dag Hammarskjöld Library's research guide for details). A UN document can easily be found in the Official Document System by entering the document symbol.
General Assembly resolutions are all on its website and also in the UN Official Document System (ODS). In printed form, they can be found at IALS in the supplement to the Official Records, Resolutions and decisions adopted by the General Assembly (formerly Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly), 1946 onwards; this title is also on HeinOnline. In addition, IALS has Djonovich's compilation, United Nations resolutions: Series 1, Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly (1946-1985/86), published by Oceana.
Security Council resolutions are all on the Security Council website and the ODS. In printed form, they appear in Resolutions and decisions of the Security Council; this is not held at IALS, but we do have the Oceana title, United Nations resolutions. Series 2, Resolutions and decisions of the Security Council, compiled by Dusan J. Djonovich.
Individual Economic and Social Council resolutions are on its website from 2001 onwards, together with links to annual compilations of resolutions and decisions from 1946 to 2000. All ECOSOC resolutions are also available via the ODS.
The Yearbook of the United Nations reproduces significant resolutions of the Security Council, General Assembly and Economic and Social Council. The whole series is on the UN website (not held at IALS).
Principal organs and other bodies produce either verbatim or summary records of their meetings. Verbatim meeting records are denoted by 'PV' in the document symbol and summary records by 'SR'.
IALS Library does not hold UN meeting records, but they are available online and/or in UN depository libraries, as detailed below:-
Security Council verbatim records: in the Official Document System from 1946 onwards and on the Security Council website 1994 onwards. They form part of the Security Council Official Records (SCOR), which are held in printed format by UN depository libraries (not at IALS).
General Assembly verbatim records: in the Official Document System from 1946 onwards (but verbatim records of GA plenary meetings have been consistently produced only from the 5th session onwards); verbatim records form part of the General Assembly's Official Records (GAOR), which are held by UN depository libraries.
General Assembly Sixth Committee (Legal): the committee's summary records are in the Official Document System from 1946 onwards; HeinOnline's UN Law Collection has them from 1946 to 2005, under Official Records of the General Assembly, Summary Records of the Sixth Committee; they are held at IALS in printed format from 1951/52 to 1975 only, under the title Summary Record of Meetings.
For information about meeting records issued by other UN bodies, see Dag Hammarskjöld Library's UN Documentation research guide.
Official records are not published for all UN meetings: if no official record exists, information about the meeting may be available in a press release or annual report, or in the daily Journal of the United Nations. The Journal has a section called 'Summary of Official Meetings' covering the previous day; the series is on the UN website from 2003 onwards and the printed version is held at many libraries (but not at IALS).
General Assembly and Security Council votes are officially recorded in their meeting records (see above). They also appear in the sessional titles, Resolutions and decisions adopted by the General Assembly (held at IALS) and Resolutions and decisions of the Security Council (not held at IALS - see depository libraries).
There is a convenient chronological collection of declarations contained in General Assembly resolutions on the GA website, 1948 to date. Declarations are also in the UN Official Document System.
Reports, memoranda, communications, letters, other documents
UN official documents of many different types are available in the Official Document System (ODS), the UN Digital Library (UNDL) and/or HeinOnline's UN Law Collection. (Although both the ODS and UNDL include official documents, their search facilities are very different so it is worth trying both.)
To trace documents not found online and not held at IALS Library, use a UN depository library.
UN document indexes
Index to Proceedings (1946 - ): annual indexes to proceedings of the Security Council, General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and Trusteeship Council; includes subject indexes and indexes to speeches.
UN-I-QUE: an index to frequently-requested UN documents, giving links to full-text sources where available (also covers UN publications).
United Nations document series symbols, 1946-1996 (United Nations, 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 and numerous commentaries on UN conventions. The library also holds a large number of UN monograph publications.
Sven Gareis, The United Nations: an introduction (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)
Benedetto Conforti and Carlo Focarelli, The law and practice of the United Nations, 5th rev. ed (Brill, 2016)
Simon Chesterman et al, Law and practice of the United Nations : documents and commentary, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2016).
Selection of other works
UN-focused titles recently acquired by the library include:
Jessie Hohmann and Marc Weller (ed.s), The UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples: a commentary (OUP, 2018).
Gay J. McDougall, The first United Nations mandate on minority issues (Brill Nijhoff, 2016).
Khaled Hassine, The United Nations principles on housing and property restitution for refugees and displaced persons ("The pinheiro principles"): a commentary (Brill Nijhoff, 2016).
A large number of other relevant titles are on the Library Catalogue.
Among the very numerous international law periodicals available at IALS, the following are of particular relevance for UN research:
Annual Review of United Nations Affairs (Oceana/Oxford University Press, 1949 - ): reproduces selected UN documents, with analytical introductions.
Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law (Brill, 1997 - ): publishes scholarly articles on the UN's work in the field of international law; all but the most recent volumes are also available free on the internet.
United Nations Disarmament Yearbook (United Nations, 1976 - ): reports on the UN's disarmament activities for each year; hard copy not held, but available in HeinOnline's UN Law Collection - see IALS Electronic Law Library.
United Nations Juridical Yearbook: publishes documents such as legal opinions issued by UN secretariats and decisions of UN administrative tribunals; also reviews the year's legal developments. Held at IALS; also on HeinOnline and the UN website.
Yearbook of the International Law Commission: publishes detailed records of International Law Commission meetings. Whole series (1949 onwards) held at IALS; also on HeinOnline and the UN website; there is a publication time-lag of several years.
UNCITRAL (United Nations Commission on International Trade Law) Yearbook: publishes legal instruments, studies, reports and the records of selected UNCITRAL meetings. Held at IALS from volume 1 (1968-70) to volume 34 (2003); whole series in HeinOnline's UN Law Collection (via the IALS Electronic Law Library).
International Court of Justice Yearbook: publishes Information about the composition, organisation, jurisdiction and rules of the Court, together with summaries of the Court's judgments, advisory opinions and orders. IALS holds the printed volumes from 1947 onwards; it is also on HeinOnline.
Yearbook of the United Nations: gives detailed annual descriptions of UN activities, with document citations, 1945 to date; publishes significant resolutions of the General Assembly, Security Council and Economic and Social Council. Not held at IALS, but the whole series is on the UN website.
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 holds several printed bibliographies relating to the United Nations:
Peter I Hajnal, Directory of United Nations documentary and archival sources (United Nations, York 1992)
Guide to the archives of international organizations. 1: The United Nations system (Unesco, 1984)
Peter I Hajnal, Guide to United Nations organization, documentation & publishing for students, researchers, librarians (Oceana, 1978)
General Assembly: documentation from the General Assembly's 52nd session (1997/98) onwards (under 'All Sessions'), 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): UN database containing all documents from 1993 onwards; all resolutions of the principal organs (General Assembly, Security Council, etc.) 1946 onwards; all Security Council plenary documents 1946 onwards; all supplements to the General Assembly Official Records (GAOR) 1946 onwards; all General Assembly plenary meeting records 1946 onwards. Only contains official UN documents issued with a document symbol - does not include publications, press releases, treaties or other material (see United Nations Digital Library or United Nations Treaty Collection instead).
Security Council: the SC website provides resolutions, reports, details of meetings and other information.
UN home page: covers the main policy areas, news, documents and other information.
UN international law pages: these cover the International Court of Justice, international tribunals connected to the UN, the International Law Commission, the General Assembly's Sixth Committee, UNCITRAL, the Internal Justice System, the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, et cetera .
UN Treaty Collection: databases of treaties and related information.
UNBISnet: index to UN 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.
United Nations Digital Library: database of UN documents and publications, including voting data, speeches, maps, press releases, resolutions, meeting records and much more; can be searched by resource type, e.g. resolution, press release, legal opinion. Unlike the Official Document System, the Digital Library includes publications as well as official documents - the ODS only covers documents. For information about the Digital Library's coverage, see this guide.
Relevant research guides available on the internet include the following:
Researching the United Nations: Finding the Organization's Internal Resource Trails by Linda Tashbook of the University of Pittsburgh's Barco Law Library (on New York University's Globalex website).
United Nations Documentation - research guide by Leah Granger of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law (on New York University's Globalex website).
International Law Commission research guide - detailed guide by ILC staff.