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UC Berkeley School of Law Library UC Berkeley School of Law Library BerkeleyLaw Library

United Nations: Introduction

Covering the structure of the UN, current awareness tools, main legal bodies, and UN documents.

History of U.N. Collections at the U.C.Berkeley Law Library

The Law Library (hereinafter “the Library”) began collecting League of Nations publications in 1919.  With the founding of the United Nations in 1945, the Library began collecting all Official Record Series of the United Nations[2] and the United Nations Treaty Series[3] as well as other UN publications of legal relevance.  These collections continue to the present day, giving the Library a complete set of Official Record Series and the Treaty Series.  The Library also has many working documents and conference documents unavailable online.  Today, the Library has over 4,000 individually cataloged records by or about the United Nations.  This number and the collection do not include materials by or about autonomous related inter-governmental organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, or the International Labor Organization.  These organizations all produce their own documents independently and utilizing a different document classification system than is used by the United Nations bodies.[4]

[2] (KZ4936 .A21982—KZ5070.2).

[3] (KZ172 .T74). Also available electronically through the UN document database and HeinOnline.

[4] For historical publishing reasons, the documents produced by the International Court of Justice are also not stored with or cataloged with the United Nations materials even though the ICJ was created by the UN Charter.

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The United Nations (UN) System is comprised of six main bodies and numerous commissions, committees, working groups, and associated organizations.

Learn more about the structure and organization of the UN System and find the websites for various UN programs from the UN website.

Generally, UN research will concern the actions and documents of the main bodies and their subsidiary bodies. Of particular interest are the:  General Assembly,  Security Council, and  Economic and Social Council.

The General Assembly, the International Law Commission, and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) are the principal UN bodies creating international law.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the UN, settling legal disputes submitted to it by States in accordance with international law and giving advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized UN organs and specialized agencies.

Bodies Outside the Scope of this Guide

The Specialized Agencies (e.g. ILOFAOWHOIMFWIPO), and Related Organizations (e.g. WTO) are all administered separately from the main UN bodies. Each specialized agency and related organization has its own membership and a country is not a member of these organizations even it it is a member of the UN. All these organizations have their own governing bodies, budgets and secretariats. 

Additionally, there are a a number of UN offices, programmes and funds - such as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) - that are of such importance as to have their own large organizational structures and administration separate from the UN main bodies.

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