Dubai ruler seeks dismissal of US child slavery case


The class action lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Miami by parents of child jockeys, alleges Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed al-Maktoum and others kidnapped and enslaved children, in some cases only two-years-old.

The defendants "perpetrated one of the greatest humanitarian crimes of the last 50 years," the unnamed plaintiffs allege in the nine-count complaint that includes allegations the defendants engaged in and facilitating slavery and caused the wrongful death of "numerous boys."

The Dubai ruler had earlier sought US President George W. Bush’s help in having the complaint dismissed, arguing it could affect ties between the United States and the United Arab Emirates (UAE.)

In court papers filed last week, the US government said it would advise the court by September 17 whether it would participate in the litigation, and asked the judge not to rule on the motion to dismiss until that date.

In their motion, the defendants’ lawyers claim the court has no jurisdiction over the case, and that Sheikh Mohammad enjoys diplomatic immunity.

They also claim the complaint conflicts with the UAE’s efforts to end the use of child camel jockeys.

"We believe we have strong grounds for a dismissal" said Habib al-Mulla, who represents Sheikh Mohammad and his brother, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashed al-Maktoum, also named as a defendant.

The two named defendants have denied the charges against them.

In their response to the motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs attorneys insist the court does have jurisdiction as the defendants own property, including thoroughbred race horses, in the United States. They also insist the complaint does not affect efforts to end the use of child jockeys.

The lawsuit is a major embarrassment for the UAE, an oil-rich US ally that seeks to project an image as a modern, business- and tourism-friendly state.

Sheikh Mohammad is also the vice president and prime minister of the UAE, of which Dubai is part. Hamdan serves as the UAE’s finance and industry minister.

In a web page addressing the claims, the Dubai government taunts a UAE program supported by the UN Children’s Fund to repatriate underage jockeys.

It also points to agreements signed with Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mauritania and Sudan to create a system to compensate former child camel jockeys from these countries.

The UAE has banned the use of child camel jockeys that were favored because of their light weight. Authorities say 1,077 children have been repatriated since 2005, while camel owners have started using remote-controlled robotic jockeys.

But the plaintiffs claim that in spite of the legislation, jockeys as young as four-years-old "remained the standard of the races for much of the past thirty years."

Among the parents bringing the lawsuit is a couple who claim their son was "forcibly abducted, trafficked internationally and sold into slavery as a camel jockey and camel camp worker" at the age of two.

Sheikh Mohammad and Sheikh Hamdan are directly involved in their racing enterprises, "choosing which enslaved child will ride their camels in individual races, personally supervising the overseers who manage the camps where the abducted and enslaved boys and camels live and work, personally giving orders to the enslaved boys, and personally profiting from the boys labors," the complaint says.

It also claims some of the boys were injected with hormones to prevent them from growing.


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