Dubai emir in US 'child slaves' row

US lawsuit alleges Sheikh Mohammad and others enslaved children as camel jockeys.

    The emir has sought assistance from the US president in getting the case dismissed [GALLO/GETTY]

    The Dubai ruler had earlier sought help from George Bush, the US president, in having the complaint dismissed, arguing it could affect ties between the US 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.

    "We believe we have strong grounds for a dismissal"

    Habib al-Mulla, lawyer for Sheikh Mohammad

    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.

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

    The two named defendants have denied the charges against them.

    In their response to the motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs' lawyers insist the court does have jurisdiction as the defendants own property, including thoroughbred race horses, in the US.

    They also insist the complaint does not affect efforts to end the use of child jockeys.


    The lawsuit is an embarrassment for the UAE, as it seeks to project the image of a modern, business- and tourism-friendly state.

    The UAE banned the use of child
    camel jockeys last year [AFP]

    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.

    On a website addressing the claims, the Dubai government touts a UAE programme 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, which were favoured because of their light weight. The 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 30 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 labours," the complaint claims.

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

    SOURCE: Agencies


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