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December 2020 - Ongoing

Application for Judicial Review against the US Department of State and US Secretary of State


United States of America


Armed Conflict in Yemen, Armed Conflict in Libya

Recipient State

United Arab Emirates

Case Type

Administrative Challenge (Judicial Review)



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In this complaint, the plaintiffs have called for the review of a series of decisions that resulted in a policy shift to permit the export of arms and military goods to the UAE. This decision narrowly made it through Congress, despite significant concerns being expressed by many stakeholders, at which point the claimants sought to challenge its procedural legality in court.

The crux of this claim is that the initial decision by the State Department to allow the export of the contested goods was a rushed and arbitrary process in the final months of Trump’s presidency that did not follow all required procedural measures as the administration tried to get this contentious matter approved prior to the end of its term. In particular, the plaintiffs relied on the lack of a valid and reasoned justification for the decision in order to argue a violation of governing domestic legislation.

On 14 April 2021, an amended complaint was filed, which added as additional plaintiffs to the case direct victims of attacks launched by General Khalifa Haftar and his allies, who were aided by the UAE. This case is still pending before a District Court in the US with the judge’s ruling on a motion to dismiss filed by the US government and decision on whether to proceed to trial awaited. 

Case Details

The submitted arguments proceeded on two main grounds.

First, that the State Department had failed to take into account compelling evidence from UN bodies, NGOs as well as its own reporting, that the exported arms are likely to be involved in ongoing armed conflicts in Yemen and Libya and diverted to non-state actors.

It was specifically argued that pursuant to the AECA, the export authorisation should not have gone ahead as it posed a threat to world peace and risked undermining US national security. Of particular interest, the plaintiffs argued that the risk of diversion to unintended actors, such as Al Qaeda, could jeopardise the US’ own national security, in addition to the threat to peace posed by the potential use of the exported arms in ongoing conflicts.

Second, that the State Department had not properly justified the change in its arms export policy. In support, the plaintiffs relied on evidence of previous situations in which the US had refused to export arms to problematic destinations, such as Turkey, due to the threat which it considered the export could pose to its own national security.

Government Opposition

The State Department opposed this claim on two main grounds.

First, that the New York Centre for Foreign Policy Affairs were not directly injured by the export decision as they were not affected by the arms sales and therefore did not have standing. Second, it claimed that arms export decisions are non-justiciable as they are political questions that are subject to ‘unreviewable agency discretion’.

Claimant Response

This was re-opposed by the claimants, who maintained that they have standing to bring the case due to the impact of the new arms export policy on their mission and resources as an NGO working on challenging problematic US arms exports. They also joined additional plaintiffs to the complaint, who had clearly directly suffered harm from the use of UAE weapons in Libya. On the justiciability argument, the claimants submitted that they were not questioning the political considerations that feed into the State Department’s choice of who to export to, but rather challenging the procedural inadequacies of the process by which this decision was made – in particular, the lack of a reasoned explanation for the decision.

The Court’s decision on whether to dismiss the case or proceed to trial is still awaited.


01 Nov 2020

Announcement by the Secretary of State of its decision to export arms and military goods to the UAE.

20 Dec 2020

Claim enters the courts. Complaint filed before the US District Court for the District of Columbia seeking the judicial review of an authorisation to export arms to the UAE.

Read the original complaint here

14 Apr 2021

Amended complaint filed, adding additional plaintiffs who had been direct victims of air attacks by the UAE.

Read the amended complaint

12 May 2021

Government Response. State Department files a motion to dismiss the claim, on the grounds of lack of standing of the plaintiffs and the non-justiciability of the claim, invoking national security considerations.

Read the motion to dismiss

18 Jun 2021

Plaintiffs' response to motion to dismiss. The plaintiffs maintain that they have the requisite standing and interest to challenge the contested decision and that the Court is competent to scrutinise it.

Read the plaintiff's opposition to the State Department’s Motion to Dismiss

16 Jul 2021

Government response in support of motion to dismiss. The State Department defends its arguments based on lack of standing, non-justiciability and argues that the Court should not allow for external actors to intrude on sensitive US foreign policy and national security considerations.

Case Documents


Opposition to the State Department’s Motion to Dismiss

Read the document in full


Amended complaint brought against the US Department of State

Read the document in full


Complaint Brought Against the US Department of State

Read the document in full


State Department Motion to Dismiss the Complaint

Read the document in full


01 December 2023

Arms Sales: The Yemen Example

Terrence P. Collingsworth | Democracy Journal

This article examines the legal structure in place to prevent the sale of arms to foreign countries that could be used for an improper purpose.

02 March 2023

Yemenis sue top US defence contractors for 'aiding war crimes'

Umar A Farooq | Middle East Eye

This article provides coverage of the complaint against the US defence contractors Saudi Arabia and UAE military officials, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin. brought by seven Yemeni nationals.

04 June 2022

Saudi-led Airstrikes in Yemen Have Been Called War Crimes. Many Relied on US Support.

Joyce Sohyun Lee, Meg Kelly, and Atthar Mirza | Washington Post

Analysis conducted by the Washington Post reveals the extent of US support provided to air force squadrons involved in the Saudi-led Coalition’s campaign in Yemen.

21 July 2021

Biden's DOJ Is Using A Ridiculous Argument To Defend A Controversial Trump-Era Arms Deal

Akbar Shahid Ahmed | Huffington Post

This article critiques the argument put forth by the US administration that the sales of arms to the UAE are disconnected from ongoing human rights abuses by its forces.

12 January 2021

Lawsuit Threatens $23bn Weapons Sale to UAE

Joe Gould | Defense News

This article provides coverage of the complaint against the US State Department for arms sales to the UAE.

30 December 2020

Pompeo and State Department Face Legal Action over $23bn UAE Arms Sale

Sheren Khalel | Middle East Eye

This article outlines the initial complaint submitted by the NYCFPA in December 2020.

29 December 2020

Trump Administration Facing Legal Action over ‘Rushed’ Sale of Arms to UAE

Samuel Lovett | The Independent

This article provides an overview of the case introduced by NYCFPA, and the main aspects of their argument and opposition to the decision of the Secretary of State.

Contact the Claimants

This claim has been brought by two NGO claimants – the New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs (NYCFPA) and Human Rights Solidarity. They are joined in this case by two associations of the families of victims of air attacks in Libya that involved UAE operated weapons, as well as several named ‘Refugee Plaintiffs’ who were survivors of air raids against a detention centre for refugees and undocumented migrants in Libya reportedly carried out by the UAE. The claimants were represented by Matthew Collette of Massey & Gail LLP.

If you would like to know more about this case, please get in touch with our primary contact Justin Russell at the New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs by email.