A United Nations resolution (UN resolution) is a formal text adopted by a United Nations (UN) body. Although any UN body can issue resolutions, in practice most resolutions are issued by the Security Council or the General Assembly.
Except concerning UN budgetary matters and instructions to lower UN bodies, General Assembly resolutions are non-binding. The UN’s website describes General Assembly resolutions as the expression of member states’ views, and as not legally binding upon member states.
Articles 10 and 14 of the UN Charter refer to General Assembly resolutions as “recommendations”; the recommendatory nature of General Assembly resolutions has repeatedly been stressed by the International Court of Justice. However, some General Assembly resolutions dealing with matters internal to the United Nations, such as budgetary decisions or instructions to lower-ranking organs, are clearly binding on their addressees.
Under Article 25 of the Charter, UN member states are bound to carry out “decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter”. Resolutions made under Chapter VII are considered binding, but resolutions under Chapter VI have no enforcement mechanisms and are generally considered to have no binding force under international law. In 1971, however, a majority of the then International Court of Justice (ICJ) members asserted in the non-binding Namibiaadvisory opinion that all UN Security Council resolutions are legally binding. This assertion by the ICJ has been countered by Erika De Wet and others. De Wet argues that Chapter VI resolutions cannot be binding. Her reasoning, in part states:
Allowing the Security Council to adopt binding measures under Chapter VI would undermine the structural division of competencies foreseen by Chapters VI and VII, respectively. The whole aim of separating these chapters is to distinguish between voluntary and binding measures. Whereas the specific settlement of disputes provided by the former is underpinned by the consent of the parties, binding measures in terms of Chapter VII are characterised by the absence of such consent. A further indication of the non-binding nature of measures taken in terms of Chapter VI is the obligation on members of the Security Council who are parties to a dispute, to refrain from voting when resolutions under Chapter VI are adopted. No similar obligation exists with respect to binding resolutions adopted under Chapter VII… If one applies this reasoning to the Namibia opinion, the decisive point is that none of the Articles under Chapter VI facilitate the adoption of the type of binding measures that were adopted by the Security Council in Resolution 276(1970)… Resolution 260(1970) was indeed adopted in terms of Chapter VII, even though the ICJ went to some length to give the opposite impression.
In practice, the Security Council does not consider its decisions outside Chapter VII to be binding.
It has been proposed that a binding triad of conditions—a supermajority of the number of nations voting, whose populations and contributions in dues to the UN budget form a majority of the total—make a General Assembly resolution binding on all nations; the proposal has gone nowhere.
For more information on specific resolutions, see: