MIAMI — A federal judge has ended, for now, the quest by a group of lawyers to sue two Middle Eastern sheiks for enslaving thousands of children and forcing them to participate in camel races.
U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga yesterday threw out the suit against two sheiks from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, saying her court had no jurisdiction in the case, despite assertions from the plaintiffs that the case could be tried here because the defendants have interests in racehorses in the Miami area.
“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,” Judge Altonaga said in her ruling.
Earlier this month, she openly questioned whether her court had jurisdiction in the case. “None of the parties, none of the interests, none of the defendants are here,” Judge Altonaga said during a July 7 hearing.
Lawyers for the defendants would not comment yesterday on the ruling other than to say they were still looking into other options and that they could appeal the judge’s decision to dismiss the case.
The attorneys for the former child jockeys — some now in their 40s — could seek to bring the case to Kentucky, where the sheiks were served with papers for the suit and also have thoroughbred horses.
Representing an estimated 10,000 children and their families, most hailing from Bangladesh, Mauritania, Pakistan and Sudan, the plaintiffs’ lawyers sought to sue Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, and his brother Sheik Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum, deputy ruler of Dubai and the country’s finance and industry minister, for unspecified damages.
The plaintiffs used a 218-year-old law to bring their clients’ fight to U.S. shores. Under the Alien Tort Statute, federal courts can have jurisdiction over certain civil cases implicating foreigners.
Richard Samp, a lawyer with the Washington Legal Foundation, a self-styled defender of “the principles of freedom and justice,” called the lawsuit against the sheiks “frivolous.”
“I know nothing about the facts other the events alleged to have taken place have nothing to do with the United States,” said Mr. Samp. “It is wholly inappropriate to make our courts judge standards that are applied throughout the world.”
Officials at the Justice Department would not comment on yesterday’s ruling.
The U.S. State Department reported in 2005: “Camel jockeys are often sexually and physically abused” and children as young as 3 years old are starved to keep their weight down for racing.
Lawyers and representatives of the Dubai leaders have noted that a program headed up by UNICEF is already working to return the boys home and reunite them with their families. The use of child camel jockeys was forbidden by law in the Emirates in 1993.
“This misguided lawsuit isn’t about solving a problem. We’re already helping the boys who used to work in camel racing,” said Habib Al Mulla, a representative of Sheik Mohammed and Sheik Hamdan.
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