You often hear about the UN deciding to "Condemn" a state, but I don't fully understand the process to do so and as such, I don't think I fully understand the impact. Is it just a basic vote between all state actors? If so, isn't it just a glorified popularity contest. I know the UN will often issue investigations prior to condemnations but are the results of those investigations actually binding to the vote?
In the UN General Assembly and Security Council, delegates of the member states vote as they are ordered by their national governments. How the national governments come to their decision is their sovereign matter. Calling that a "popularity contest" presumes that all governments are totally unprincipled; I wouldn't go that far.
In the UNSC, five nations which are more or less the main victors of World War II have veto power, so it isn't even democratic. The veto powers resist any effort to dilute their veto.
Attempts to build an evidence-based international court have been blocked by various nations. Some claimed that the court was biased and not genuinely based on evidence, others seem to resist the idea of legal principles overriding their national sovereignty -- the 17th century concept of Westphalian Sovereignty running into the 18th century concept of universal rights.
There is no such thing as a specific "UN Condemnation": these condemnations are standard United Nations Resolutions which say that the UN condemns a state or actions. As such, they are political resolutions governed by the standard rules of UN resolutions:
- 50% + 1 vote of the General Assembly for a General Assembly resolution, or
- 50% of the Security Council (with no Vetos) for a Security Council resolution
They are not the outcome of some sort of legal proceeding, though there may be an investigation: the standard is whatever is necessary to get a majority in the appropriate chamber. Obviously, that means that politics is central to whether an action or country gets condemned and the value of that condemnation is based on how much you trust that political process.