The issuance of official documents is an important aspect of the work of the Secretariat and the intergovernmental bodies, and is governed by policies and procedures related to the control and limitation of documentation. Official documents are issued by the main organs of the United Nations and their subsidiary bodies and are searchable on the Official Documents System website, documents.un.org.
Standards for documentation in the United Nations are set by the General Assembly (through its Fifth Committee) on the advice of the Committee on Conferences established in resolution 2239(XXI). The Committee on Conferences serves as an oversight body for the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM) and convenes for its annual substantive session in September in advance of the opening of the General Assembly to consider issues related to:
- The calendar of conferences and meetings;
- The utilization of conference-servicing resources and facilities at New York, Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi;
- The performance of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management
- Translation- and interpretation-related matters;
- Information technology;
- Multilingualism; and
Language of documentation
Parliamentary documents (i.e. those for consideration by intergovernmental bodies) are issued in all six official languages (English, French, Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish) in accordance with General Assembly resolution 55/222. Secretariat documents (i.e. administrative issuances and information circulars) are generally issued in the two working languages, English and French.
General Assembly resolution 52/214 established that reports originating within the Secretariat include:
- A summary of the report;
- Consolidated conclusions, recommendations and other proposed actions; and
- Relevant background information.
The resolution further specified that conclusions and recommendations should be reflected in bold type.
Control and limitation of documentation
Rules are in place for the control and limitation of documentation to support planning and allocation of resources for editing and translation in order to ensure that reports are prepared in time for intergovernmental consideration.
Regulations for the control and limitation of documentation are contained in ST/AI/189 and its addenda.
Currently, Secretariat documents are subject to a word limit of 8,500 words (in English) unless a waiver has been approved by DGACM.
The General Assembly previously established page limits for documents (16 pages for Secretariat documents and 32 for intergovernmental bodies, to be reduced over time to 20 pages). The Secretariat internally used word count equivalents (8,500 words for Secretariat reports and 10,700 words for intergovernmental reports) for documentation planning purposes. DGACM began to systematically implement rules and guidelines on the word limits in 2004, including requirement of an internal waiver request process for Secretariat reports exceeding the 8,500 word limit.
The General Assembly set document submission timelines in its resolution 47/202B.
To ensure that delegates have sufficient time to consider reports in advance of intergovernmental meetings, pre-session documents are supposed to be distributed—in all six official languages—no less than six weeks before meetings.
To ensure sufficient time to edit and translate reports to meet the six-week rule, Secretariat entities are supposed to submit reports to DGACM ten weeks before the beginning of sessions.
The date of submission of a report to DGACM is known as the "slot date". As per the memo of the Chef de Cabinet, date 5 June 2017, all reports of the Secretary-General to intergovernmental bodies must be submitted to EOSG for clearance or for information as early as possible and at least six working days before the slot date.
All official documents are assigned a unique identifier, known as the document symbol.