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Research Guides

UN System Documentation


UN emblem and city skyline in afternoon light, UN Photo 744496


Overview of UN System and its Documentation

The documentation patterns of international organizations usually reflect the structure and working practices of the organization. While each organization is unique, in the UN family of organizations, there are some common characteristics.

Most organizations in the UN System have:

  • Governing body composed of member states that sets priorities, budget, and reviews programmes
    • May be called Assembly, Conference, Council, Executive Board, etc.
      • There may be a secondary body that oversees the organization in between sessions of the highest governing body, e.g. ILO Conference and ILO Governing Body
    • May adopt resolutions, decisions, recommendations, standards, etc.
    • Often have extensive documentation related to their meetings and decisions
      • Sometimes called "parliamentary documentation"
      • May have their own document numbering system (document symbols, codes, etc)
        • Often have elements that distinguish body, session, or type of document
      • May have dedicated databases or websites for these types of documents
        • e.g. UNESDOC, IMODOCS, ODS, etc.
  • Subsidiary bodies usually focus on a particular topic or concern
    • May be called committees, commissions, working groups, etc.
    • Usually report to a higher governing body
    • Some subsidiaries are composed of states; others are composed of experts or individuals appointed in their personal capacity
  • Secretariat composed of experts and staff who advise the governing body and carry out the work of the organization
    • Headed by Secretary-General, Executive Director, Director General, etc.
    • Often have technical departments related to the substantive work of the organization
    • Often have legal department that monitors relevant treaties, collects and disseminates international and national legislation, case law, other legal material related to the substantive work of the organization
      • e.g ECOLEX, FAOLEX, NATLEX, etc.
  • In addition to parliamentary documents, they may also produce
    • publications
    • model laws or legislation
    • guidelines
    • data and statistics
    • other information products

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