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Georgetown Law Library

United Nations Research Guide

This guide will suggest background resources and tips on navigating United Nations documents.

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 INTL KZ4945 .U564 and available electronically through a variety of databases (GULC only).
  • Sales publications include yearbooks and annuals (Yearbook of the United Nations INTL KZ4947 .U65 and electronically and Yearbook on Human Rights INTL K3236.6 .Y4 and electronically 1/1946- 1/1988 through HeinOnline (GULC Only) 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.

The best place to start your research is the online database, Official Document System of the United Nations. It is the official repository for documents published by the United Nations. The full text of documents dating back to 1992 is accessible in pdf in all official languages of the United Nations - Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. Documents are stored in two databases, UN Documents, which includes documents back to 1992; and UN Resolutions, which includes resolutions of the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council and Trusteeship Council from 1946-1993. Daily Journals from New York and Vienna are also available.

If you cannot find what you need in the United Nations Document System, the next best place to look is AccessUN (Georgetown Law Only), used in conjunction with the READEX microfiche set which is located in International Media. To use the microfiche set, you must have the document symbol and the date of the document. Use AccessUN to find or verify the document number. Then select the drawer with the year you need and choose the appropriate organ (General Assembly, Security Council, etc.). Look for the symbol which will be located at the top right corner of the fiche. A fiche copier is available in International Media as well as Media Services on the third floor of the Williams library. Keep in mind that the specialized agency documents are not included in the document collection.

The Internet is a viable vehicle for locating the full-text of selected documents, see the UN Documentation Centre for General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, and Secretariat documents.

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 (Guide to International Legal Research INTL KZ1234 .G85) and in other works, for example How to Find the Law KF240 .C5383 1989. TheUNDOC: Current Index (MFiche UN DOCS ST/LIB/SER.M/CUM) lists new document symbols. See also the Document Symbols section of the Dag Hammarskjöld library's research guide on UN Documentation. You can also identify committees, commissions, etc. by their document series symbols by using this guide.

DOCUMENT INDEXES

  • United Nations Documents Index (UNDI) (1950-62) INTL KZ5010 .A2 ST/LIB/SER.E/CUM
    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) INTL KZ5010 .A2 ST/LIB/SER.E CUM
    Omits coverage of specialized agency documents; subject index provides the document symbol and document symbol in documents list gives bibliographic information.
  • UNDEX (1973-1978) Issued in three series: A = subject index, B = country index INTL KZ5010 .A2 ST/LIB/SER. I/A and KZ5010 .A2 ST/LIB/SER. I/B and C = list of documents issued. Series C was commercially published: UNDEX Series "C" Cumulative Edition 1974-77 and supplement 1978. INTL KZ5010 .A2 ST/LIB/SER.I/C 1974-78
  • UNDOC : Current Index (1979-1996) INTL KZ5010 .A2 ST/LIB/SER.M and on microfiche in INTL Media
    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.
  • READEX INTL KZ4935 .R43 Electronic has developed a CD-ROM index for accessing UN documents, which can be searched by body, subject, title, document symbol, etc. INTL Media. The web version of this index is AccessUN and it covers 1956 to present (Georgetown Law Only).
  • An index is available from the UN Dag Hammarskjöld Library 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 onwards). Full bibliographic information is not provided, see the READEX index.
  • See also the new Web version of this index, called 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.