Skip to main content

United Nations: Types of Documents

Resolutions

Resolutions express the formal opinion of a main organ. 

Resolutions can influence international law in three ways:

  • Security Council Resolutions are binding. Under the UN Charter, all UN member states "agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council" (art. 25) regarding economic sanctions (art. 41) and military action (art. 42.)
  • Resolutions can propose binding treaties. For example, the General Assembly Resolution A/RES/39/46 proposed the Convention Against Torture. Most states have since ratified and become bound by the Convention. 
  • Resolutions can serve as evidence of customary law. Customary laws are legal principles that are so widely accepted that they are considered binding on all states. A resolution stating a legal principle can serve as evidence that that principle is part of customary law. This is particularly true when the resolution is adopted by the General Assembly, which includes almost every country in the word.

Resolutions may originate in the plenary (a meeting of all members of a main organ, able to discuss any topic) or in one of its subsidiary bodies. In particular, General Assembly resolutions often originate in reports from its six committees.

Reports

All of the other main organs file annual reports with the General Assembly.

The General Assembly, Security Council, and ECOSOC all have subsidiary bodies that file reports with them.

The most significant of these bodies are the General Assembly's six committees. As discussed under Basic Structure, the General Assembly produces a  yearly agenda, from which some items are allocated to the plenary and some are allocated to the committees. For each agenda item it has been allocated, each committee submits a final report to the plenary, including the text of a suggested resolution, summaries of all of the committee's meetings regarding the item, sponsors of the resolution, and any votes by the committee on the resolution.

Meeting Records

The main organs and many of their subsidiary and affiliated bodies keep records of their meetings. For more information, see: 

Other Types of Documents

  • Agendas:  Most bodies will have agendas for their meetings and/or for their session as a whole. The General Assembly has an especially detailed agenda drafted from February to September of each year and listing all of the work of the General Assembly's plenary and six committees.
  • Working Papers: Documents used in creating a final resolution or report, such as rough drafts.
  • Declarations: Similar to resolutions but typically for "procedural matters such as elections, appointments, time and place of future sessions". (See Ask Dag, What is the difference between a resolution and a decision?)
  • Presidential Statements: The current president of the Security Council may issue statements on behalf of the Council, after consulting with the Council but without a vote. The presidency rotates between the Security Council members each month alphabetically by name.