Federal Judge Dismisses Camel-Jockey Lawsuit

A United States federal judge dismissed a lawsuit July 30 seeking damages from two United Arab Emirates leaders for the use of thousands of children to ride racing camels, saying the case does not belong in U.S. courts.

Judge Cecilia Altonaga said she could not find a strong enough legal connection between the two Emirates leaders and their business interests in the U.S. to permit the lawsuit to move forward. Neither the children nor their parents live in the U.S., and the racing was held in several Persian Gulf countries for decades. The families of about 10,000 children are mainly from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, and Mauritania.

The case pitted them against Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Emirates prime minister and ruler of Dubai, and his brother, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum, who is Dubai's deputy ruler and the Emirates' finance and industry minister. A spokesman for the two leaders said the lawsuit "distracted attention" from a program the Emirates and UNICEF created to reunite the children with their families and provide them with a range of social services, as well as compensation.

"These ongoing programs began long before the U.S. plaintiffs' attorney filed their baseless allegations," Habib al Mulla said in a written statement. "And they will continue as the U.A.E. and its international partners work to serve the best interests of the children."

Lawyers in Miami and South Carolina who represent the children and their families did not immediately respond to telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

The lawsuit was brought under a two-century-old law known as the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreigners to sue in U.S. courts in certain circumstances. The lawsuit had reached the highest levels of the U.S. government, with the Emirates leaders appealing directly to President Bush to intervene. The U.S. State Department served notice last week that it would do so, arguing sovereign immunity protected the two sheiks from the lawsuit.

The judge, however, limited her ruling to jurisdictional questions and did not comment on the other legal issues, including whether the Emirates' new programs for the former child jockeys is sufficient. Lawyers for the children argued the sheikhs had extensive horseracing interests in Kentucky and Florida that provided a sufficient U.S. legal connection for the lawsuit.

Altonaga found the corporations were legally separate entities from the sheiks, and declined to order the lawsuit transferred to a Kentucky court.

"We've said from the beginning that this case doesn't belong in U.S. courts," al Mulla said.

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