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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 a UN subject descriptor when running an advanced search by subject in the United Nations Digital Library
  • Researchers can use a UN document symbol when running an advanced search by document symbol in the United Nations Digital Library
  • This link describes the scope of UN documents available online.  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 many 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

  • In BLS library's SARA catalog, use subject: United Nations to find sources like:

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

Law and Practice of the United Nations: Documents and Commentary (2016)

  • 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.