Dubai ruler accused of slavery

A judge in Miami has dismissed a lawsuit alleging the ruler of Dubai enslaved thousands of children and forced them to work as camel jockeys.

The judge said the suit fell outside the court's jurisdiction.

'Not for US courts'

Judge Cecilia Altonaga ruled in favor of the defense, which argued that Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed al-Maktoum did not have sufficient contacts in Florida to justify trying the suit in the south-eastern US state.

"We've said from the beginning that this case doesn't belong in US courts and we're gratified by Judge Altonaga's careful legal analysis and ruling," said Habib Al-Mulla, a spokesman for the Dubai ruler.

The class-action lawsuit filed by parents of child jockeys alleged Sheikh Mohammad, his brother Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashed al-Maktoum and other unnamed defendants kidnapped and enslaved children, in some cases as young as two, to be used on the camel racing circuit.

Ties with Florida

The plaintiffs argued the two named defendants could be tried in Florida because corporations they own do business in that state, but the judge said this ran "contrary to well-settled principles of corporate law."

"Because the court concludes that it lacks personal jurisdiction over the identified defendants, it does not reach or address the merits of the other arguments raised," Altonaga said.

The defense had argued the interests of former child jockeys are best served through an existing program to send them back to their home countries and compensate them there.

Child jockeys ban

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), of which Dubai is part, has banned the use of child jockeys, sent more than 1,000 of them home and replaced them with remote-controlled robots.

It has also committed to providing the funds for the compensation of the former camel jockeys in Bangladesh, Mauritania, Pakistan and Sudan.

While the plaintiffs argued the program did not provide for any punishment against individuals responsible for enslaving children, the defense team stressed the four countries of origin of the jockeys agreed it should be the "exclusive remedy," and pointed out the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) supports the efforts.

"This lawsuit has distracted attention from the truly important efforts by the UAE and UNICEF to provide life-changing social services and financial compensation to boys formerly employed as camel jockeys," Al-Mulla said yesterday.

"These ongoing programs began long before US plaintiffs' attorney filed their baseless allegations. And they will continue as the UAE and its international partners work to serve the best interests of the children," he said.

Mohammad bin Rashed is also vice president and prime minister of the UAE.

Mr Hamdan serves as finance and industry minister of the oil-rich Gulf country.
Source AFP

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