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International Governmental Organizations : United Nations

Subject Guide

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Beth Harper
Memorial Library
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Government Information Specialist


United Nations Treaty Collection

  • incorporates full text of several UN publications available in paper, among them Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General (updated almost daily), the United Nations Treaty Series, and the League of Nations Treaty Series

About the UN

According to the About the UN page, "the United Nations is an international organization founded in 1945 after the Second World War by 51 countries committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights."

The UN currently has 193 member states.

Structure and Organization
The UN Charter established six principal organs of the United Nations:

Many of these have multiple subsidiary bodies (commissions, committees, etc). The United Nations family, however, is even larger, encompassing more than 20 other specialized agencies, related organizations, funds, and other UN entities.


Web site

Many UN sites are available in the official languages of the UN: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. I have linked to the English versions of the sites.
Other language options

United Nations home page

UNSD Statistical Databases, from United Nations Statistics Division.

UN Data Explorer; can view data sets by

  • Dataset title
  • Sources
  • Topics, from crime to health to trade

Regional Commissions of the Economic and Social Council


The UN has a complex publication and documentation system. The UN's Dag Hammarskjold Library, at the UN headquarters in New York City, has a thorough UN Research Guide that explains many aspects of the publication and documentation system.

Best database for full-text UN documents and publications: UNBISnet: UN Bibliographic Information System

  • Catalog of the UN's Dag Hammarskjold Library, at the UN headquarters in New York City, with links to lots of full-text materials
  • Most full-text materials are from 1979 and later, but the full text of older materials is constantly being added
  • Some documents available in two or more of the UN's official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish
  • Can search three different databases:
    • Bibliographic records
      • Broadest search covering the most documents
      • Can search over 20 specific fields, including title, subject, and document symbol/sales number
      • Can limit search by type of material, language, and publication date (among other criteria)
    • Voting records
      • Can search voting records for all resolutions which were adopted - either without a vote or by roll-call or recorded vote - by the General Assembly beginning with its 38th session (1983-) and the Security Council beginning with its 1st year (1946-)
      • Can search by keyword, vote date, or resolution [document] symbol
      • Can limit search by action body, vote type, or voting date
    • Index to speeches
      • Can search citations to speeches made in the General Assembly, Economic and Social Council, and Security Council, all from 1983 onward, and the Trusteeship Council from 1982 to 1994. Links to the full text of speeches are provided
      • Can search by meeting record [document] symbol, speaker, country/organization, subject, or speech date
      • Can limit search by action body or speech date

Finding books, periodicals, pamphlets at the library

The University of Wisconsin-Madison's libraries have print documents published by the UN and related bodies. Many are included in the library catalog.

Hints for searching the library catalog

  • Search the name of the organization (or subsidiary body) in the
    • Authors/creators box to find publications issued by the organization
    • Subjects box to find publications about the organization
  • Type phrases in quotation marks. Examples:
    • "United Nations"
    • "Economic Commission for Africa"
  • Some subsidiary/related UN bodies are known by acronyms/abbreviations (example: UNESCO, UNICEF). Try searching by both the acronym and the spelled-out full name if you're getting too few or too many results.
    • Exception: I would not use the search term "UN" or other acronyms that are 3 letters or shorter; these will likely return too many irrelevant results.
  • Some subsidiary/related UN bodies use British spellings of words in their names.

    Example: United Nations Environment Programme

    Try both American and British English-language spellings if you're not getting many results. Common words affected by this:

    American spelling British spelling
    center centre
    defense defence
    organization organisation
    program programme

UN & Human Rights

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Human Rights Bodies

  • These bodies monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties.

Human Rights by Country includes links, by country, to

  • status of ratifications
  • reporting status (links to documents reporting on a country's compliance with a treaty)
  • any decisions on human rights from the General Assembly, Human Rights Council, or High Commissioner for Human Rights