United Nations Documentation


By Leah Granger

( Update of an article   by Wiltrud Harms published on September/October 2007)


Leah Granger is a reference librarian at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, where—after several years of apprenticeship to Wiltrud Harms— she is responsible for maintaining the United Nations law collection and teaching UN legal research. Leah is an editor of the Foreign Law Guide. She has degrees from New College of Florida (B.A.), Berkeley School of Law (J.D.), and San Jose State University (M.L.I.S.).


Published April/May 2015

See the Archive Version



Table of Contents


1. UNBISnet

1.1. Purpose

1.2. Scope

1.3. Special Features & Search Tips

2. ODS

2.1. Purpose

2.2. Scope

2.3. Special Features & Search Tips

3. UN Website

3.1. Searching the UN Homepage

4. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

5. UN Documents & Dag Hammarskjöld Library

6. HeinOnline UN Library

6.1. Purpose

6.2. Scope

6.3. Special Features

7. AccessUN

7.1. Purpose

7.2. Scope

7.3. Noteworthy Treaty Citation Features

7.4. Search Tips

8. UN-I-Que

8.1. Purpose

8.2. Scope

8.3. Special Features

8.4. Search Tips




UN Documents are often of interest to researchers in the fields of international law, human rights, peace and security, and economic development.


This guide provides information on using the primary finding tools for UN documents. The guide is organized by finding tool. For each resource, there is a description of the scope of its contents and the best way to use the tool. For more information on the UN generally, see The United Nations: Boalt Research Guide .


Generally, use UNBISnet to look for a specific document or to research a topic. The UNBISnet user interface is the most comprehensive and detailed source of UN information. UNBISnet usually contains links to the documents stored in ODS.


If there is not a link in UNBISnet or you don't find a record at all, it is worth searching for the document directly in ODS. Older documents not contained in ODS may be found by searching the Access UN microfilm index.


Use ODS as a primary research tool when conducting full-text searches of resolutions and speeches.


If you are looking for treaty documents or publications from a specific UN body, consider using the HeinOnline UN Law Collection, the UN Treaty Collection, or a UN body website. For more information on treaty research, see United Nations Treaties: Boalt Research Guide .


UN-i-Que is an online reference file, containing unique listings of recurring studies and reports. It is a useful entry point for historical and in-depth research and in the maintenance of UN library collections.


Each of these finding tools is explained in detail in the following sections.


1.      UNBISnet


1.1.   Purpose



1.2.   Scope


Bibliographic Records:


Most important and largest database of UNBISnet. Includes UN documents and publications indexed by DHL and Geneva Library AND commercial publications and other non-UN materials (such as books and journal articles) published worldwide on topics that are relevant to the UN and collected by the Library.




· Catalog records for UN publications issued from 1979–Present


Voting Records:



Index to Searches:



1.3.   Special Features & Search Tips

Catalog records for UN materials are typically very detailed and frequently give useful additional information (relating to treaties, for example).


Records created for non-UN sources held by the Dag Hammarskjold Library are generally not as detailed.


The bibliographic descriptions, particularly those of journal articles, can be very useful for researchers outside the Organization. UNBISnet alone offers these citations to books and articles coming from all regions of the world.


Search Options:


All three databases offer: "New Keyword Search" and "New Browse List Search".


"New Keyword Search":


Use “New Keyword Search” unless you want to browse a list of documents. You can search for text within specific fields (e.g. Subject or Title) and limit the results by Type of Material, Language, and Date.


“General Keyword”: searches ALL fields, especially useful for searching the content notes, which will contain information about any legal texts annexed to the document.


Subject terms assigned by UNBISnet may differ from those of the Library of Congress, (e.g. “transnational corporations” is used for “international business enterprises”).



Exclude unwanted materials, by limiting search results to:



“New Browse List Search”:


Convenient and efficient if the exact beginning of the document symbol, sales number, title, etc. is known.


The "New Browse List Search" requires the exact input of the beginning of a document symbol (e.g. A/65/51), sales number (e.g. 10.IV.11), or title (e.g. Conference on Disarmament). The result screen displays all documents with numbers (titles, subjects, etc.) following this document (e.g. A/65/52, 53, etc.).


Symbol Truncation:


A symbol entered into the symbol field can be truncated to just one letter if the first symbol element consists of a single letter.

EX: to search all General Assembly documents enter "A/".


Full-text Searching:


The "UN Documents" and the "Daily journal - New York" databases allow full-text searching for words and phrases, and also the use of Boolean operators such as AND, OR, AND NOT, SENTENCE, and PARAGRAPH. A question mark replaces any letter in a word, and an asterisk any string of characters at the beginning or end of a word. Full-text searches are very effective when searching for documents dealing with specific topics or concepts that are not used as subject terms by the UN bibliographic system.


EX: significant harm SENTENCE aquifer state* PARAGRAPH (reparation OR compensation) - and selecting "Use Boolean operators" as search type.


Using UNBISnet as a portal to the ODS:


For all searches other than full-text, UNBISnet is the best tool for finding UN documents. Once the symbol has been found by UNBISnet, enter it on the ODS search screen to retrieve the item. The last step may be unnecessary since many UNBISnet citations offer direct links to ODS.


2.      ODS

For those familiar with ODS, the link to the old ODS interface is still available. The old interface provides search options that are not available on the new interface.


2.1.   Purpose


ODS is the official UN document repository, containing UN documentation in the six official languages. It provides a full-text searchable multilingual system.


2.2.   Scope


•	UN sales publications,
•	UN Treaty Series, or
•	Subscription periodicals (except the Daily Journal).












UN Documents:

Most important and largest database of the ODS system.



·        The Official Records of the United Nations

·        Thousands of masthead documents (a.k.a. “working documents” or “mimeos”) mostly issued after 1992

·        ALL documents from 1993–Present

·        Most Gen. Assembly (A/…) 1988–Present

o    The SC and GA consider many important issues jointly. In such cases, the same document will be given both an A/… and an S/… number. Because ALL the SC documents are in ODS, you will sometimes be able to access early GA documents that were also considered by the SC.

·        ALL Sec. Council (S/…) 1946–Present

·        ALL UNCITRAL (A/CN.9/…) 1967–Present

·        Most ILC (A/CN.4/…) 1948–Present

·        Most Legal Committee (A/C.6/…) 1986–Present


ALL Resolutions 1946–1993:


·        Only accessible from the Advanced Search screen

·        Retrieves resolutions in the final Official Records version only.

·        Resolutions adopted after 1993, in provisional or final form, can only be found in the UN Documents database

·        Includes resolutions of the GA, SC, Economic and Social Council, and Trusteeship Council


Daily Journal:


·        Geneva

·        Vienna

·        New York


Coverage 1996–Present:



·        Information about upcoming meetings

·        A Summary of Official Meetings convened a day or so earlier

·        UN document symbols of major documents that served (or will serve) as basis for the discussions

·        Beginning with July 2004, links to the text of documents cited or listed (retrieve the full text by clicking on the document symbol)


Daily list of documents:


·        Geneva

·        Vienna


2.3.   Special Features & Search Tips


Which Search Function to Use:


1.      Advanced Search:



2.      Simple Search:


·        Only searches UN Documents, not the Resolutions Database

·        Full-text search in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish

·        Using the Old ODS interface, you may use right truncation of document symbols, to retrieve series of documents.


3.      Global Search:


·        Uses a unique search engine capable of retrieving older documents stored as images.


4.      Full Text Search:



3.      UN Website


The UN website serves as a gateway to an immense store of information and documentation on the world body and its activities. Find:



From the main page, you may select the pages of the main bodies or pages organized by area of work. From each of the main body pages, you may find the agenda, meetings, and documents from that body.


Documents may also be quickly located by selecting the “ Documents ” link from the bottom of the page, listed under “Resources/Services.”


The work of the Sixth Committee and the International Law Commission (ILC) may be accessed via “What We Do” à ”Uphold International Law” à ”What is International Law.” The links are about halfway down the page.


3.1.   Searching the UN Homepage

The "Search" link of the UN Homepage allows for BASIC and ADVANCED full-text searching of all material posted on the UN website and a few related sites (e.g. ILC).


When to use the 'search' feature:


The UN website has links to the ODS, and most of its documents are contained in the ODS database (search from the “ Documents ” page). More importantly, there are materials on the UN website that are not available in the ODS and may not even be described by UNBISnet. For this reason, whenever we have citations for UN materials but ODS will not retrieve them, it is a good idea to search the UN website (or related websites such as OHCHR). For example, one may find:



Upholding International Law :


This is the most important UN web page for international law research, and all of its sub links are worth exploring, particularly:





The Office of Legal Affairs may be found under the link for “Departments/Offices” à ”New York” at the bottom of the UN homepage. OLA brings together a number of useful resources, including the “Repertory of Practice of the UN Organs” and an excellent “Legal Research Guide”.


The ”Global Search” that enables searching across the following UN legal publications:



For example, search by Boolean “mount w/2 fitzroy” or by document number “A/CN.4/519” as an exact phrase.


4.      Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Maintained by the Office of the High Commissioner, the OHCHR website is the most complete source of information and documentation on UN action for the protection and promotion of human rights.




·        An issues link that lists human rights topics considered by the UN, in alphabetical order; click a topic and obtain a selection of relevant, important UN documents

Treaty Body Database:

Allows you to search for documents by region/country, committee, document type, symbol, and date.


Universal Human Rights Index:

Allows you to track the development of human rights issues (topics) worldwide across bodies and over the past ten years. Includes concluding documents from the ten UN human rights treaty bodies, Country visit reports, and recommendations made under the Universal Periodic Review process. Advanced search option allows for filtering by Right.


Jurisprudence Database:

(Developed by Netherlands Institute of Human Rights–SIM), covers treaty bodies which receive and consider individual complaints including CCPR, CERD, CEDAW, CAT, CRPD, CED, CESCR, CRC, and general comments and general recommendations.


5.      UN Documents & Dag Hammarskjöld Library


The Documents and Library pages provide:


6.     HeinOnline UN Library


6.1.   Purpose


This collection contains exact reproductions of major United Nations legal publications, including the complete collection of the:


Finding Aids and additional features make it easy to pull up a UN Treaty by entering a UNTS Citation, searching for a UN Treaty, and linking to law review articles that cite a UN Treaty.


6.2.   Scope

This is just a selection of material that may be of most interest to the legal researcher. Consult the website for a complete and up-to-date list.


UN Yearbooks


Treaty Publications


UN Serials




Codification and Progressive Development of International Law








6.3.   Special Features


Quick Reference Guide:


HeinOnline's Quick Reference Guide provides clear, detailed instructions on using the databases.

In addition to browsing through the various collections, one can search for material using one of the following finding aids:









7.      AccessUN


7.1.   Purpose

Commercially produced online index covering UN documents and publications issued from 1946–Present.


Produced by the Readex Corporation as a finding aid for UN documents scanned onto READEX fiche.


The only online index that covers older UN documents not yet incorporated by UNBISnet.


7.2.   Scope

Bibliographic Records from 1948–Present


Full-text Documents:


Selected documents are appended to the respective bibliographic citations incl. SC resolutions (from 1974 on) and GA and ECOSOC resolutions from 1983.


7.3.   Noteworthy Treaty Citation Features


To search AccessUN efficiently for citations to treaties published in the UNTS, treaty researchers should become familiar with the following special features:



7.4.   Search Tips

AccessUN's "Help" link offers well-written and clearly organized search instructions, including numerous search examples. However, no examples are given for finding treaties published in the UN Treaty Series using AccessUN. The following example shows how to find treaties by citation in AccessUN.


Use AccessUN as an alternative to using Hein's UNTS citation finder / EISIL and the UN Treaty Collection Database if you have a treaty citation (e.g. 1577 UNTS 3) but no other information.



From the main AccessUN search screen, enter <volume 1577 and p. 3> [p. + space + number] and search "in All Fields." It will bring up the wanted treaty citation, covering the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. AccessUN does not have the full text but does provide:



8.     UN-I-Que


8.1.   Purpose

Ready-reference database tracking mainly the production of UN material of a recurrent nature.

Designed to address frequently asked questions and provide quick access to document symbols/sales numbers for UN materials.


Produced by the UN Dag Hammarskjold Library (DHL).


8.2.   Scope

Comprehensive coverage from 1946–Present (in reverse chronological order) of:



Items are usually listed within a few days of receipt by the Dag Hammarskjold Library.

These listings are valuable in research, in bindery preparation and in collection development.


8.3.   Special Features


Reference Records:


More than 6,500 reference records were created for this database. Every record is identified by a (searchable) title or heading and a (non-searchable) record number consisting of the letter "R" followed by a 5-digit number:



For example, The Human Rights Council issues an annual report for which UN-I-Que has a reference record. The title of the reference record is "Human Rights Council. Report" and the record number is "R06502." Many UN annual report titles have changed names over time or are inconsistently published. UN-I-Que does a good job of documenting these small inconsistencies and name changes, making it very useful for historical and longitudinal research.


You can create a durable link to any UN-I-Que reference record by appending the record number to the URL.




UN-I-Que presents its search results by listing the found record titles in alphabetical order, with each title/heading serving as a link to the individual reference record.


Many records include related information, e.g. the record for the Report of the Human Rights Council provides a reference to the resolution which established the Council, gives the series symbol for its documents and includes the URL for its website.


Individual Entries:

A reference record may have just one entry or it may have many. These entries lead neither to full-text documents nor detailed bibliographic descriptions but offer important information about the listed items, e.g.:



8.4.   Search Tips


·        From UN-I-Que's Homepage link to: " Search Tips .”


·        Here we find tips and examples on how to search for UN documents, publications and (rarely) press releases, dealing with selected categories of UN materials or UN related information. UN-I-Que uses 23 terms to identify 23 types of frequently requested materials: e.g. if you need human rights rapporteurs' reports (hr) on freedom of religion, search for "religion hr".



·        Every user should visit uN-I-Que’s link to “Search Tips” because there is more to UN-I-Que than is apparent from the brief description given on the search screen. The "Search Tips" reflect the broad scope of information contained in this reference file. For example, they mention conferences and summits as well as plans or programs of action adopted by UN bodies, and explain which type of documents are listed for these categories and how to search for them.


·        In most cases, one should prefer ALL WORD searches to PHRASE searches because the record titles (called "headings") chosen by UN-I-Que may differ from the bibliographic title we know. Since UN titles and names change frequently, UN-I-Que may use simplified, slightly modified, or abbreviated titles for certain recurring publications or documents. On the other hand, searchable information may be added (in brackets) to the name of a body when the given name does not seem sufficiently descriptive for UN-I-Que's reference purposes.



·        Example: a phrase search for “Report of the International Law Commission” will find no hits although it is presently the exact title of the ILC’s sessional report. Enter instead: “international law commission report” and select "Match ALL words." The first of four retrieved records contains the wanted listing of ILC reports.


·        Enter numerous significant keywords if you know exactly what you want in order to keep the retrieved listing as short as possible. Enter only the main keywords if you are at the beginning of your perusing the retrieved list of reference record titles will provide you with a useful overview of past and present UN activities/ publications related to your topic.


·        For example, if you plan to do research in the social responsibility of transnational corporations, search only for "transnational corporations" to find an informative mix of reference records listed.