Camel jockey civil rights case refiled in Kentucky after Florida dismissal
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2007:
LEXINGTON, Ky.–Plaintiffs including the parents of five
unnamed boys who were allegedly enslaved in Dubai as camel jockeys
filed a class action lawsuit during the second week of September 2007
against Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum, brother of the ruler of
The ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bid Rashid al Maktoum, was in
Lexington, Kentucky, to attend the annual Keeneland September
Yearling Sale, where the family has reportedly paid as much as $3
million for highly regarded thoroughbred horses.
The lawsuit alleges that Sheikh Hamdan was complicit in
enslaving as many as 30,000 children during the past 30 years for use
as camel jockeys–a misnomer, since the children, sometimes as
young as four years of age, are tied to the backs of the racing
camels, and have no ability to control them. Many are thrown and
injured, or even killed.
Foreign visitors including Prince Charles of Britain at one
time were prominent at high-stakes camel races in Dubai and elsewhere
in the oil-rich portions of the Middle East. Camel racing fell into
disrepute, however, after human rights organizations documented
that the jockeys are often bought from poor families in nations
including Bangladesh and Sudan, with the promise that they would be
given good jobs and an education. Rarely is the promise fulfilled.
The lives and fates of the camels, meanwhile, are similar
to those of racehorses: winners live longer. Losers go to
slaughter. Injuries are frequent. Drugging and other chicanery
harmful to the animals is much more often alleged by losing bettors
than proven– and the political and economic influence of the camel
racing stable owners, in nations with traditionally low regard for
human rights, tends to thwart close policing.
The Kentucky case parallels a 2006 filing against both Sheikh
Hamdan and Sheikh Mohammed in Miami. U.S. federal judge Cecilia
Altonaga on July 30, 2007 ruled that because neither the sheikhs nor
the plaintiffs reside in the U.S., and none of the alleged wrongful
actions occurred in the U.S., the case should not be tried in a U.S.
“Although the new lawsuit does not specifically name anyone
other than Sheikh Hamdan as a defendant,” said Canadian Press, “it
includes other unnamed defendants who are accused of being
accomplices.” The case was filed both in Florida and in Kentucky
under the Alien Tort Statute, an 18th century federal law originally
used against pirates and on behalf of sailors who were impressed into
service against their will by the British Navy.
“The lawsuit had reached the highest levels of the U.S.
government,” Canadian Press said, “with the Emirates leaders
appealing directly to President George W. Bush to intervene. The
U.S. State Department served notice [in the Miami case] that it would
do so, arguing that sovereign immunity protected the two sheiks
from the lawsuit.”