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UCL academic investigates how the UN develops international law

The Global Engagement Office provided funding to support vital research related to the International Law Commission.

Dr Danae Azaria (UCL Laws) at the 2017 United Nations General Assembly

8 November 2019

With support from Global Engagement Funding, Dr Danae Azaria, Associate Professor in the UCL Faculty of Laws, attended the Legal Committee of the United Nations General Assembly in 2017 and in 2019 as an expert of the UK delegation. 

Danae’s research focuses on general public international law, and in relation to the United Nations, examines the function and work of the International Law Commission (ILC), its working methods, and the trends in its modern practice.

In September 2019, the EU's European Research Council awarded Danae a Starting Grant of the full amount of €1.5 million for her new research project on ‘The Silence of States in International Law’. Danae’s activity at the United Nations supported the preliminary research for her ERC Starting Grant application.

Reviewing international law

The ILC is part of the United Nations General Assembly, composed of independent experts and mandated to promote the progressive development of international law and its codification. It oversees the formulation and systematisation of international law rules.

The Legal Committee of the General Assembly - widely known as the Sixth Committee - consists of government delegates of all UN members, and deals with legal questions. It interacts annually with the work of the ILC.

Danae is an expert on the ILC, its function and working methods, and its interaction with the Sixth Committee. 

“Attending the Sixth Committee’s meeting as part of the UK delegation, during the consideration of the ILC’s Annual Report, has enhanced my understanding of the relationship between the ILC and the Sixth Committee by reflecting on the interaction of these two bodies and the concerns of governments,” she commented.

Danae was subsequently invited to speak at the official commemoration event for the 70-year anniversary of the ILC, which took place at the UN office in Geneva.

“This was a honour for me and a unique opportunity to present my research on the ILC’s working methods to the members of the Commission, Judges of the International Court of Justice and government delegates,” she added.

Speakers were invited according to strict geographic representation, and Danae was one of only two academics selected from the ‘Western European and Others' group that includes the USA, Canada, Australia, France, Germany and the UK.

Facilitating long-term engagement with UN

Numerous articles have been published on the basis of Danae's research on the ILC, with more forthcoming.

Her 2019 article published in the FIU Law Review deals with the reasons behind the ILC's 'Return to the Law of Sources of International Law’. Another has been accepted for publication by the European Journal of International Law in 2020. It argues that the ILC interprets international law, and particularly the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, in numerous recent topics of work.

In her 2018 speech at the UN commemoration event, which will appear as a chapter in a UN publication in 2020, Danae addressed the ILC's working methods. She commented on the need for the ILC to adhere to methodology for codification and progressive development, showing the importance of commentaries in international judicial practice and the need for it to be consistent in the preparation and adoption of its commentaries. She also discussed the manner in which the ILC takes decisions, urging it to use consensus, and only exceptionally majority voting. 

Alongside giving lectures at the University of Oxford (2018), Universidad de Chile (2019), and teaching a seminar at Humboldt University Berlin (2019), Danae has launched an annual International Law Commission events series at UCL. The first event took place in October 2018, on the ILC’s work on ‘Crimes Against Humanity’. Taking part were Professor Sean Murphy - who was the ILC’s Special Rapporteur on this topic - the President of the American Society of International Law, Professor Philippe Sands QC of UCL, as well as Alice Lacourt, Legal Counsel of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

In 2019, Danae launched the ‘International Law Clinic’ project, which has given LLM students on her Law of Treaties course the opportunity to produce a brief for a small island State in the Pacific region in preparation for that State's submissions to the ILC.