Among the greatest achievements of the United Nations is the development of a body of international law, which is central to promoting economic and social development, as well as to advancing international peace and security. The international law is enshrined in conventions, treaties and standards. Many of the treaties brought about by the United Nations form the basis of the law that governs relations among nations. While the work of the UN in this area does not always receive attention, it has a daily impact on the lives of people everywhere.
The Charter of the United Nations specifically calls on the Organization to help in the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means, including arbitration and judicial settlement (Article 33), and to encourage the progressive development of international law and its codification (Article 13).
Over the years, more than 500 multilateral treaties have been deposited with the UN Secretary-General. Many other treaties are deposited with governments or other entities. The treaties cover a broad range of subject matters such as human rights, disarmament and protection of the environment.
General Assembly as a forum for adopting multilateral treaties
The General Assembly is composed of representatives from each UN Member State and is the main deliberative body on matters relating to international law. Many multilateral treaties are in fact adopted by the General Assembly and subsequently opened for signature and ratification. The Legal (Sixth) Committee assists the work of the General Assembly by providing advice on substantive legal matters. The Committee is also made up of representatives from all UN Member States.
The General Assembly has adopted several multilateral treaties throughout its history, including:
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948)
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965)
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979)
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982)
Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)
Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (1996)
International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (1999)
International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005)
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006)
United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea (2008)
Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2008)
In many areas, the legal work of the United Nations has been pioneering, addressing problems as they take on an international dimension. The UN has been at the forefront of efforts to provide a legal framework in such areas as protecting the environment, regulating migrant labour, curbing drug trafficking and combating terrorism. This work continues today, as international law assumes a more central role across a wider spectrum of issues, including human rights law and international humanitarian law.