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Charter of the United Nations (UN Charter)

Research about the Charter of the United Nations (UN Charter)

Many questions about the UN can be researched most effectively by starting with secondary reference materials such as books or articles. Researchers often find it helpful to identify the provisions of the UN Charter relevant to their topic of research. Identifying the relevant article(s) of the UN Charter helps the researcher use specialized reference books such as UN Charter commentaries and certain UN legal publications.

UN Charter commentaries are specialized legal treatises organized by article of the UN Charter; these publications and other reference books, encyclopedias, and articles about the UN:

  • highlight key events in the history of the organization,
  • provide a drafting history of each article of the UN Charter,
  • cite relevant UN Charter provisions, UN documents, publications and websites,
  • cite additional secondary research resources.

The Dag Hammarskjöld Library has commentaries on the UN Charter in English, French, and Spanish.

UN reference resources such as the Repertory of the Practice of UN Organs and the Repertoire of the Practice of the Security Council provide detailed legal analysis of the actions of the organization over time and cite relevant UN Charter provisions, UN documents and publications. The UN Juridical Yearbook includes legal opinions on topics related to the UN Charter and the work of the organization. UN Yearbooks are also useful for historic research.

Reference books and other resources mentioned in this guide may be available at libraries around the world -- check your local or national library, UN depository library, or WorldCat, for assistance with materials mentioned in this guide that are not published by the UN.

Ask DAG FAQ: How do I start research on United Nations topics?

Related Research Guides

How to Research an Article of the Charter

There are many ways to approach Charter research. 

Some sources are arranged by Article of the Charter, such as:

  • The Charter of the United Nations : a Commentary, edited by Bruno Simma et al.  
  • Repertory of Practice of United Nations Organs (on-line and in print)
  • Repertoire of the Practice of the Security Council: Constitutional Issues section

Other sources may look at the Charter as a whole, such as:

  • Audiovisual Library of International Law: Historic Archives: Charter of the United Nations

Secondary sources such as books and articles may also discuss certain aspects of the Articles of the Charter. For example:

  • Admission to the United Nations : Charter Article 4 and the rise of universal organization, by Thomas D. Grant
  • 'Armed attack' and Article 51 of the UN Charter : evolutions in customary law and practice, by Tom Ruys

In addition, it is possible to search by subject in databases and library catalogues to identify material that may discuss the substance of Charter articles (such as self-defence, UN membership, General Assembly, Security Council, International Court of Justice, etc.).

For research into the drafting history of a particular Article of the Charter, in addition to the sources suggested above, the final two volumes of the Documents of the United Nations Conference on International Organization are indexes to the complete set of documents, organized by Article of the Charter. Within the section for each Article, there are citations to the documents by proposal and committee, as well as a subsection for subject analysis. Volume 21 is the English index. Volume 22 is the French index. Volume 16 is a subject index to the first 15 volumes of the set.

Beginning Research on Charter Articles

UN Publications

Two UN publications present the activities of the organization as they relate to the Articles of the Charter.

Commentaries

Treaty commentaries are reference books that explain the meaning of the parts of the treaty. There are several commentaries on the UN Charter. In general, the commentaries are organized by article of the Charter and provide a bibliography of selected articles and books, give a brief procedural history of the drafting of the article, and describe how each article has been expressed in the practice of the organization.