UPDATE: Researching the United Nations: Finding the Organization's Internal Resource Trails
By Linda Tashbook
Linda Tashbook is the Foreign International Comparative Law Librarian at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law's Barco Law Library, a Fulbright Senior Specialist, and an attorney in private practice. Prior to becoming the foreign and international librarian, she was the Barco Law Library's Electronic Services Librarian. Her book, Family Guide to Mental Illness and the Law (Oxford, 2019) won the 2020 Publication Award from the Academic Law Libraries Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries and the 2019 Reynolds and Flores Publication Award. Her Juris Doctor and Master of Library Science degrees are from the University of Pittsburgh. Her Bachelor of Science degree is from Texas Woman's University.
Published November/December 2022
(Previously updated in December 2006, June 2009, May/June 2011, October 2012, June/July 2013, and November/December 2016)
Table of Contents
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Standard Queries
- 3. Types of Research Tools
- 4. Handbooks, Toolkits, and Other Instructional Sources from U.N. Entities
- 5. Researching Treaties Deposited with the U.N.
- 6. Glossaries for U.N. Functions
- 7. Finding Official Operating Documents of U.N. Entities
- 8. Topical Research Guides & Resource Collections
- 9. Guides to U.N. Research from Non-U.N. Entities
- 10. U.N. Entities’ Compilations of National Laws
- 11. Databases from Throughout the U.N. System
- 11.1. Case Databases
- 12. Directories of U.N. Staff and Components
The United Nations is such a massive organization that its wide array of processes and products require enough reference sources to warrant a map and compass for navigation. As a map, here are suggested search techniques for several standard types of queries and, as a compass, here are the U.N.'s many diverse search tools organized into resource types.
2. Standard Queries
- Finding people involved with the U.N.
- Finding issues handled by the U.N.
- Finding the work of one U.N. entity
- Finding treaties
3. Types of Research Tools
- Operating Documents
- Topical Research Guides
- System-wide Databases
- Database Training Manuals
For more information about the search tools and primary sources that are published by the U.N., use research guides by non-U.N. entities.
3.1. Persons Involved with the U.N.
- Use a directory.
- Look for speeches given by that person.
- Search for publications authored by that person or referencing that person's work.
- Search through U.N. press releases.
3.2. Issues that the U.N. Works On
- Use the document research guides for each of the U.N.'s broad categories of UN work:
- Security Council Resources
- Economic & Social Development Reports & Databases
- Human Rights Documents Research Guide
- International Law Documents Research Guide
- Peacekeeping Documents Research Guide
- Select from the list of Issues on the U.N. Agenda.
- See the Chief Executive’s Board for Coordination (CEB) Topics List
- Look through the list of U.N. news outlets to find any that follow the topic you are investigating.
- See if there is specialized topical research guide produced by a unit of the U.N.
3.3. Works of a Particular U.N. Entity
- Look in the Dag Hammarskjold Library Catalog using the name of the committee, office, organization, council, etc., as a keyword phrase. Using the committee's name, as author does not usually yield thorough results in this database.
- Browse through the UN System roster. The committees are usually components of the organizations in this list. Therefore, you will have to navigate.
- Use the index to the U.N. Website to search for the committee by name or else by the main areas of its work.
- Search the U.N. Official Documents System database and use words from the committee’s name as search terms.
4. Handbooks, Toolkits, and Other Instructional Sources from U.N. Entities
- Crisis Communications Toolkit
- Handbook of Global South Initiatives to Counter Terrorism and Prevent Violent Extremism
- Guidelines on Police in Peacekeeping Operations
- Guidelines on Police Capacity Building and Development
- Civil Affairs Handbook (Peacekeeping)
- Handbook for Field Missions on Preventing and Responding to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence
- Rule of Law Guidance and Policy Materials
- Peace & Security – landmine action standards
- Handbook on the Crime Prevention Guidelines
- Handbook for Parliamentarians on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Public Administration Network – Handbooks and Manuals for capacity development
- Civil Affairs Handbook (UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and department of Field Support, 2012)
- Human Rights – handbooks for U.N. staff, judges, police, social workers, and governments (Use filter to limit search to “professional training series.)
- Human Rights and Elections – A Handbook on International Human Rights Standards on Elections
- High Commissioner for Refugees – guidelines & manuals for emergencies, repatriation, self-reliance, protection of displaced persons, etc.
- Reporting on Gender-Based Violence in the Syria Crisis – a Training Manual
- UNCITRAL – legislative guides & model laws related to trade and commerce.
- Office of Legal Affairs – handbook, reference guide and other treaty participation assistance. Division of Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea – practical guidelines for maritime law.
- Staff Regulations Handbook
- World Bank handbooks
- UN Women - Handbook and Supplement for Legislation on Violence Against Women
5. Researching Treaties Deposited with the U.N.
- Search in the U.N. Treaty Collection, which "contains the texts of over 50,000 bilateral and multilateral treaties and subsequent treaty actions in their authentic language(s), along with a translation into English and French, as appropriate."
- Find treaty signatories, ratifications, and accessions in the Status of Treaties tool.
- Find very recent treaties and related writings by browsing through the Monthly Statement.
- Read the decisions of the International Court of Justice interpreting the treaty that interests you.
- The International Law Commission has drafts of related conventions and helpful explanations about the work of codifying international law.
- The U.N. Office of Legal Affairs provides technical assistance and general information about treaties: stages in the treaty-making process, instructions for joining into an agreement and registering it, a treaty reference guide, and U.N. requirements and practices for treaty making.
- Search for press releases about a particular treaty.
- Check the Journal of the UN daily news about treaties.
6. Glossaries for U.N. Functions
- UN Terminology Portal (This portal leads to definitions from throughout the UN system.)
- UN Thesauri for online searches
- Children's Issues- Glossary
- Climate Terminology
- Corruption: Glossary of International Criminal Standards
- Cultural Heritage Glossary
- Data Glossary
- Detention Alternatives Glossary
- Development Terms
- Disaster Glossary
- Drug Abuse Terms
- Education Terms
- Environmental Terms
- Human Rights Treaty Terms
- Peacekeeping Terms
- Refugee Terminology
- Trade Terms
- Treaty Glossary
- World Investment Terms
7. Finding Official Operating Documents of U.N. Entities
- The official UN Research Guide – describes the types of documents produced by the U.N. and any symbols or techniques necessary for understanding those documents.
- UN Documents - Definitions and Symbol Explanations
- Official Document System – a collection of parliamentary writings and other administrative records.
- U.N. Documentation Centre – a browsing table showing the main bodies of the U.N. with hyperlinks to all of the records, decisions, press releases, etc, produced by each.
- Member States on the Record – Browse by country name for direct access to UN documents about and by that country.
- UN Yearbook
- UN Juridical Yearbook
- UNCITRAL Yearbook
- UN Disarmament Yearbook Universal Periodic Reviews of Countries’ Human Rights
- Reports – Link directly to Flagship Reports by individual organizations and see how to locate regularly filed reports from various UN entities.
8. Topical Research Guides & Resource Collections
This list is only intended to contain true finding aides that point to assorted information sources in a subject area. The Dag Hammarskjold Library has a comprehensive list of UN entity research and reference materials. An alternative way to find subject-based resources is to click on the 'Publications' link on the home page of any U.N. body or organization.
- International Law - reports about and text of the U.N.'s instruments of international law, such as the Vienna Convention on Treaties, obligations to extradite, diplomatic immunities, etc.
- International Law – from the UN Office in Geneva
- UN Statistical Research – from the UN Office in Geneva
- Comprehensive list of international law databases
- Intellectual Property – Digital library of patents, trademarks, etc. (WIPO World Intellectual Property Organization).
- Labor & Employment – conventions, journals, statistics, studies, etc (ILO International Labor Organization).
- Labor Databases – child labor, trade union complaints, comparative national laws, Triblex case law, etc. (ILO).
- Investment Disputes - treaties, cases, publications, manuals, etc. (World Bank).
- Financial Management - research about investments, banking, currency control, and other fiscal matters (IMF International Monetary Fund).
- World Trade - digital library of primary and analytical sources (UNCTAD Conference on Trade and Development).
- Refugee Law and Protection Policy – the UNCHR's policy papers and expert meeting proceedings.
- Food & Agriculture – descriptive alphabetical listing of databases about planting, growing, and producing food (From FAO the Food and Agriculture Organization).
- Economics & Development – research, prospects, and data about education, business, and sociology in individual countries and regions from the World Bank.
- World Bank Documents & Reports – topical listing includes social & economic issues.
- Social Development – the vast resources of the UN Research Institute for Social Development.
- Agricultural Life and Business – food security, climate adaptation, animal and crop management, technology, poverty, and more. (International Fund for Agricultural Development).
- Health Research – WHO statistics and other research publications.
- Nutrition – country studies, policy papers, news from SCN (the Standing Committee on Nutrition).
- Illegal Drugs – trends, country reports, criminal law enforcement data and analysis from UNODC (Office of Drugs and Crime).
- Women – portal to resources on gender equality and empowerment.
- Children – studies, statistics, and numerous databases about child welfare from UNICEF (the UN Children's Emergency Fund).
- Population – data reports about population characteristics and behaviors.
Safety and Security
- Disarmament – resource guides pointing to books and chapters, articles, databases, UN documents, UN offices, etc.
- Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice
- Drugs & Crime- data and analysis
- Resources on Peace and Security
- Climate – national reports, primary documents, "issues quick-finder," technology from UNFCCC (Framework Convention on Climate Change).
- Nuclear Science – access to databases, statistics, and information services from IAEA (International Atomic Energy Association).
- Maritime issues – resources about shipping, marine safety, piracy, ocean pollution, etc. from the IMO (International Maritime Organization).
- Flight Safety – national regulations, safety management data, airworthiness information, etc. (International Civil Aviation Organization).
9. Guides to U.N. Research from Non-U.N. Entities
This list has a small sample of the many UN research guides online:
10. U.N. Entities’ Compilations of National Laws
- FAOLEX, from the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, links to national agricultural laws.
- NATLEX, from the International Labor Organization, collects national labor and employment laws.
- ECOLEX has environmental laws.
- UNESCO compiles national laws about cultural heritage.
- WIPO links to patent, trademark, design, and copyright laws.
- The WTO has summaries of countries' trade policies.
- UNODC has a database of cybercrime legislation and counterterrorism laws.
- The Division of Ocean Affairs & Law of the Sea collects national maritime laws.
- UNCHR’s Refworld links to national laws about immigration and asylum.
- UNCTAD Data Protection & Privacy Laws Worldwide
11. Databases from Throughout the U.N. System
- United Nations Digital Library – access to speeches, proceedings, and debate statements.
- Member States on the Record – portal to speeches, sponsored resolutions, diplomatic relations, credentials, and more.
- UN Statistical Division
- ODS (Official Document System) – reports and publications from headquarters and major divisions.
- Press Releases (public information)
- NGO Database – detailed profiles of NGO’s including funding sources, consultative status, and records of meeting participation.
11.1. Case Databases
- Constitutional Case Law – Venice Commission
- Corruption Cases
- Domain Name Disputes
- Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission Decision (Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission – The Hague Justice Portal)
- Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission (The Hague Justice Portal)
- Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
- Human Rights Council Complaint Procedure
- Human Trafficking cases
- Immigration Decisions (national & international)
- International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea cases
- International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala
- International Court of Justice cases
- International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
- International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
- International Labor Standards Cases (domestic & international)
- Investment Dispute Cases (ICSID)
- Patent Cooperation Treaty Cases
- Permanent Court of Arbitration
- Reports of International Arbitral Awards Special Court for Sierra Leone
- Special Tribunal for Lebanon
- UN Compensation Commission (Iraq-Kuwait claims)
- UN Internal Justice System – cases involving UN staff
12. Directories of U.N. Staff and Components
These directories primarily list national representatives who participate in the named entities. Where possible, staff directories are also linked. Generic "contact us" links are purposely omitted because those are not informational in themselves, and they can already be efficiently located.
- Contact information for UN senior officials
- U.N. Information Centre Directory
- Blue Book Directory of Members and Observers
- Directory of Permanent Missions
- Secretariat Structure
- Dag Hammarskjold Library – New York
- FAO Library
- ILO Library
- ITLOS Library (law of the sea)
- Peace Palace Library – Hague, Netherlands
- UN Office at Geneva Library
- UN Office at Vienna
- UN System Depository Libraries
- UNCITRAL Library
- UNESCO Library
- UNICRI Library (international crime & justice)
- World Bank – IMF Library
- WHO Library
- WIPO Library
- WTO Library