UCL Faculty of Laws


ERC State Silence Project

The silence of States has always been treated as a ‘side-effect’ of international law. Yet, its presence and role is ubiquitous.

Under the leadership of Dr Danae Azaria, this project aims to understand the legal significance of State Silence in international law-making, State responsibility and dispute settlement. The objective is to set a new research agenda in the discipline of international law that reveals, considers and deconstructs the role of State silence in international law as a legal order.

Aims of the project

By examining the practice of States across all geographic groups of the United Nations (UN), and the jurisprudence of at least 8 international courts and expert treaties bodies, and by conducting research in the 6 official languages of the UN, the ERC State Silence project will reveal:

  • whether silence can bind States, and if so, under which circumstances;
  • the role of State inaction for State responsibility;
  • the effect of State inaction in the field of international dispute settlement, including non-appearance before international courts and tribunals.

The project aims to identify the different ‘silences’ of States and to understand their legal effects, the reasoning behind the law attributing (or not) legal significance to State silence, and the reasons for which States remain silent.

Research outputs 

The project will lead to numerous research outputs. A number of articles in major peer reviewed journals have been published (including in the European Journal of International Law (2020)) and others are in progress. A volume edited by Dr Azaria on State Silence Across International Law, expected in 2022, is based on the project’s workshop (10-11 December 2021) bringing together leading international law experts who reflect on the role that State silence has played in the development of their respective fields. The project’s lead monograph authored by Dr Azaria, The Silence of States In International Law, is under contract with OUP (expected in 2025) and systematises and analyses the rules on State silence in relation to the law of sources, responsibility and dispute settlement. At least two PhD theses in the field of non-appearance before international courts and tribunals are supervised by the Principal Investigator, Dr Danae Azaria. 

Funded by the ERC

State Silence is a European Research Council (ERC) funded project that studies the legal significance of State silence, why the law attributes legal significance to State silence and why States remain silent. It does so by looking at the practice of States, the work of the UN International Law Commission, and international case law (of at least eight courts and tribunals and expert treaty bodies). 

What happens when States remain silent?

International law is identified by observing the behaviour of States and deriving rules from their behaviour. But, what happens when States do nothing? In 2018, the US, UK and France bombed Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons against civilians by the Assad regime. The UK declared that it lawfully used force because international law permits humanitarian intervention. Other States remained silent. Does this mean that international law now permits humanitarian intervention? Further, there are currently two disputes before the International Court of Justice, where the respondent States (Venezuela and Kenya) are not appearing; and since 2016, Russia and China have not appeared on five occasions before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea and arbitral tribunals. State silence has the potential to erode fundamental rules, such as the prohibition of use of force, and to undermine international justice. This project breaks new grounds in international law by analysing if and under which conditions State silence has legal significance in international law, what is the reasoning behind the law and the reasons behind States being silent. Its innovative methodology involves research in geographically representative State practice, international jurisprudence and literature available in the six official languages of the UN, and employing empirical research for identifying the reasoning behind the silence of States.

People involved in the project

Dr Azaria is the Director (Principal Investigator (‘PI’)) of the ERC State Silence project. She is a general public international lawyer with publications on the intersection between international economic law (energy trade) and State responsibility (countermeasures), on the law of the sea, the law of treaties, and the function, methodology and work of the International Law Commission. Her research has been presented at the UN (including at the official commemoration event for the ILC’s 70th Anniversary), and has received world-renowned prizes, including the Guggenheim Prize in Public International Law (2017). She is the Book Reviews editor of the British Yearbook of International Law, co-Rapporteur of the ILA Committee on Submarine Pipelines and Cables, and member of the ILA Committee on Use of Force: Military Assistance by Request (she was invited to join owing to her research on State Silence). Dr Azaria trains government officials in the regional courses on international law of the United Nations (UN) (Latin America and the Caribbean; Asia and the Pacific). She has held prestigious fellowships including, as Senior Fellow, ‘KFG - The International Rule of Law: Rise or Decline?’ (2019), and Senior Humboldt Fellow, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Humboldt University, 2019-2021). Read more about Dr Azaria’s publications, expertise and activities.

The team under the direction of Dr Azaria is a vibrant and growing community of early career researchers of international law:

  • Paula Nuño Balmaceda (LLM UCL distinction) is a Research Assistant under the ERC State Silence project (2021-2022). Prior to joining the State Silence team, Paula has been legal advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Chile and lecturer of international law at the Universidad de Chile.
  • Roel Walvarens (LLM QMUL distinction) is a Research Assistant of the ERC State Silence project (2021). 
  • Céline Chausse (LLM UCL distinction) is a PhD candidate fully-funded under the State Silence Project. Her research focuses on non-appearance before international courts and tribunals.


The project collaborates with academics across the world, including in academic institutions in the UK, North America, the EU, Asia, Africa and Latin America. The PI welcomes approaches from academic colleagues from anywhere in the world interested in State Silence and being affiliated with the project. The project liaises with government legal advisors across the world to conduct inclusive research and to disseminate widely the research outcomes. For collaborating with the State Silence project, please email Dr Azaria.

Dr Azaria collaborates on artistic work inspired by the State Silence project with the ERC State Silence project’s ‘artist in residence’, Dr Carey Young (Associate Professor, UCL Slade School of Fine Arts). Dr Azaria welcomes collaborations with artists and with experts from other disciplines, including political scientists, historians, sociologists and others. For such enquiries, please email Dr Azaria.

The ERC State Silence project also has an Education branch (from 2021) introducing UCL LLB students to the State Silence project, its research methods and ethics, as well as its research focus. It has established a thriving community of scholars and learners about this new discipline in international law, and welcomes approaches from other learners. If you are interested in the State Silence Education project, please email the State Silence Project.