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Researching International Human Rights Law: Reading UN Document Symbols

Guide to UH Law School students researching international human rights law.

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United Nations Document Symbols

Basics of UN Document Symbols

A symbol serves as a unique identifier for a United Nations document. Each symbol is composed of numbers and letters which do not give any significant indication of the subject of a document. All language versions of a document carry the same symbol.

Structure of Symbols

First component

Usually, the first component indicates the organ to which the document is being submitted or the organ that is issuing the document:

  • A/- General Assembly
  • S/- Security Council
  • E/- Economic and Social Council
  • ST/- Secretariat

Some bodies have a special series symbol that does not reflect the parent organ. For example:

  • CRC/C/- Committee on the Rights of the Child
  • DP/- United Nations Development Programme
  • TD/- United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
  • UNEP/- United Nations Environment Programme
Second component

Secondary and tertiary components indicate subsidiary bodies:

  • -/AC. .../- Ad hoc committee
  • -/C. .../- Standing, permanent, or main committee
  • -/CN. .../- Commission
  • -/CONF. .../- Conference
  • -/GC. .../- Governing council
  • -/PC/. .../- Preparatory committee
  • -/SC. .../- Subcommittee
  • -/Sub. .../- Subcommission
  • -/WG. .../- Working group
Special components

Special components reflect the nature of the document:

  • -/CRP. ... Conference room paper
  • -/INF/- Information series (e.g., lists of participants)
  • -/L. ... Limited distribution (i.e., generally draft documents)
  • -/NGO/- Statements by non-governmental organizations
  • -/PET/- Petitions
  • -/PRST/- Statements by the President of the Security Council
  • -/PV. ... Verbatim records of meetings (i.e., proces-verbaux)
  • -/R. ... Restricted distribution; restricted access (unless subsequently derestricted)
  • -/RES/- Resolutions -/SR. ... Summary records of meetings
  • -/WP. ... Working papers
Final component

The final component, appearing as a suffix to a symbol, reflects modifications to the original text:

  • -/Add. ... Addendum
  • -/Amend. ... Alteration, by decision of a competent authority, of a portion of an adopted formal text
  • -/Corr. ... Corrigendum (which may not apply to all language versions)
  • -/Rev. ... Revision (replacing texts previously issued)
  • -/Summary Summarized version
  • -/-* Reissuance of a document for technical reasons
Session or year component

Many document symbols now include sessional or year elements, usually following the components that indicate the body. This was not the case prior to 1976 when the General Assembly began this practice. Other organs adopted similar practices. Subsidiary bodies generally follow the practice of the parent organ. The General Assembly began to incorporate the session number into the symbols of its documents in 1976, at its 31st session (e.g., A/31/99). In 1978, the Economic and Social Council began incorporating the year into the symbols of its documents (e.g., E/1978/99). The Security Council began doing the same in 1994 (e.g., S/1994/99), with the exception of resolutions and meeting records