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United Nations Legal Research Starting Points: Research Tips

Research Tips

  • United Nations Documentation: Research Guide explains the components of UN document symbols.  It also includes subject guides for topics: disarmament, environment, human rights, international law, peacekeeping, and the UN budget. 
  • UNBIS Thesaurus identifies UN subject descriptors.  Researchers can use UN subject descriptors when searching for documents in UNBISnet database or in Official Documents System of the United Nations.  These databases are good sources of UN masthead documents and resolutions.  UNBISnet also provides voting records for UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions and an index to speeches.  Use UNBISnet to research by topic.  Neither UNBISnet nor Official Documents System provides a complete online archive of UN documents from 1945-present.  The UN's Official Records include many significant UN documents.  UN depository collections at New York University's Bobst Library and at Columbia University's Diamond Law Library provide Official Records of key UN bodies.  A BLS reference librarian could provide a BLS researcher with an access pass to visit a UN depository library.      
  • Often, the best source of UN documents is the website of the UN body that authors, or publishes, the documents.  Click here to access websites of UN law-related bodies.   
  • Review articles, reports, treatises and yearbooks to identify which UN bodies have addressed particular topics.  
  • For historical research, a yearbook identifies UN bodies that focus on a topic and provides cites to documents.

A Global Agenda: Issues before the ... General Assembly of the United Nations

Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law

Yearbook of the United Nations

An Introduction to the Law of the United Nations (2010)

The Law and Practice of the United Nations (2010)

  • Not all UN documents are in English. If parties before the ICJ conduct a case in French, written pleadings and oral arguments will appear in French, although the decision in Reports of Judgments will appear in both French and in English.  Also, nations’ reports (required by many treaties) may only be available in one UN official language.