Each UN document is assigned a document symbol, that is usually printed in the upper right corner of the document and is based on the type of document and the body that issued it. The document symbol is unique to the document but the same for each of its translations. For example, A/RES/62/24 is the document symbol for the Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish translations of the same General Assembly resolution.
Document symbols can be used to quickly locate and retrieve the correct document, as explained on Basic Strategies for Retrieving UN Documents.
There is also a separate document symbol system used for press releases.
That's everything you need to know about document symbols! If you aren't interested in the nitty gritty, you can move onto the next section of the guide on locating UN documents. If you are interested in learning more about how document symbols are assigned, read on.
Generally, the first part of the symbol identifies the UN body that adopted or received the document. Initial symbols are assigned to all of the UN's principal organs:
A/ General AssemblyE/ Economic and Social CouncilS/ Security CouncilST/ SecretariatT/ Trusteeship Council
Initial symbols are also assigned to various other relatively important or independent UN bodies:
CEDAW/ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against WomenCRC/ Committee on the Rights of the ChildDP/ United Nations Development ProgrammeFCCC/ Framework Convention on Climate ChangeICEF/ United Nations Children’s FundTD/ United Nations Conference on Trade and DevelopmentUNEP/ United Nations Environment Programme
Other bodies are generally identified by the symbol for the principal organ they are affiliated with, followed by their own symbol.
The following symbols are commonly used to identify specific types of bodies:
/C/ Standing, permanent, or main committee. In place of C. you may see AC for an ad hoc committee, SC for a subcommittee, or PC for a preparatory committee.
/CN/ Commission. In place of C., you may see Sub. for a subcommission.
/GC/ Governing council
/WG/ Working group
Commonly, subsidiary bodies are assigned identifying numbers. For example:
A/C.6 indicates a document of the Legal Committee (Committee 6) of the General AssemblyE/C.12 indicates a document of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Committee 12) of the Economic and Social Council.
Not all symbols for subsidiary bodies follow the standard pattern: subsidiary bodies may also be assigned symbols based on their name. For example:
A/HRC/WGAD/ indicates a document of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the Human Rights Council, which is a subsidiary of the General Assembly
Reports from one UN body to another are typically given the document symbol of the body that received the report. For example:
A/71/2 is a report by the Security Council (S/) to the General Assembly (A/)A/72/10 is a report by the Sixth Committee of the General Assembly (A/C.6) to the General Assembly (A/)
Several symbols indicate the content of the document. For example:
/CRP/ Conference room paper/GC/ General comment issued by a human rights treaty body/INF/ Information Series/MIN/ Minutes/NGO/ Statement by a non-governmental organizations/PET/ Petition/PV/ Verbatim transcript of a meeting, abbreviated from the French procès verbaux/WP/ Working paper/RES/ Resolution/SR/ Summary record of a meeting/PRST/ Statement by the President of the Security Council
/Corr/ Corrigendum (Correction)
/Summary/ Summarized version of another document
Finally, other symbols indicate limitations or restrictions on a documents distribution:
/L/ Limited Distribution
/R/ Restricted distribution or access
Identifying numbers may be used for document types. For example:
CERD/C/GC/35/Corr.1 is the first correction to a General Comment by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
A/C.4/66/SR.10 is the 10th summary meeting record issued by the Fourth Committee during the General Assembly's 66th session.
Early Sequential Numbering
Most early UN documents were numbered sequentially from the beginning of th UN. Sometimes, the session or year would be indicated in parenthetical after the sequential number but the numbers continued to climb from year to year. For example:
E/1046 is the 1046th document issued by ECOSOC.
A/Res/491 (V) is the 491st resolution issued by the General Assembly since the UN began. The (V) indicates that it was issued during the General Assembly's fifth session.
A/RES/1622 (S-III) is the 1622nd resolution issued by the General Assembly since the UN began. The (S-III) indicates that it was issued during the General Assembly's third special session. (You may also see E, used to indicate extraordinary sessions.)
S/RES/2404 (2018) is the 2404th resolution issued by the Security Council since the UN began. The (2018) indicates that it was issued in 2018.
Modern Session or Year Number and Sequential Numbering
As the sequential numbers became increasingly high and unwieldy, most bodies switched to indicating the session or year as part of the document and restarting the sequential numbering within each session or year. For example:
A/RES/62/24 is the 24th resolution of the 62nd session of General Assembly.
S/2011/33 is the 33rd document issued by the Security Council in 2011.
E/2016/100 is the 100th document issued by ECOSOC in 2016.
The General Assembly switched to this format in 1976 and ECOSOC switched in 1978. The Security Council switched formats for most of its documents in 1993 but continues to number is resolutions sequentially from the beginning of the UN.
In 1998, the UN's Dag Hammarskjöld Library prepared a 768 page list of UN document symbols: