NBC News
updated 9/12/2006 4:21:51 PM ET 2006-09-12T20:21:51

An American law firm has filed a class-action lawsuit against the leaders of the United Arab Emirates for allegedly abducting thousands of young boys from South Asia and Africa and enslaving them to work as camel jockeys in races in the UAE, NBC News has learned.

The suit was filed in Miami on behalf of the boys and their parents. The suit claims that “boys as young as two years old were stolen from their parents, trafficked to foreign land and put under the watch of brutal overseers in camel camps throughout the region.”

The defendants are Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the emir (ruler) of Dubai, and Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is Mohammed’s brother. Previously, a spokesman for the UAE Embassy told NBC News that the UAE’s leaders have done nothing wrong, and follow the law in conducting or sponsoring camel races in the Emirates.

The U.S. State Department has condemned the practice of using young boys as camel jockeys in the Gulf states, including the UAE. In the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report last year, for example, it said that “thousands of children, some as young as three or four years of age, are trafficked from Bangladesh, Pakistan and countries in East Africa, and sold into slavery to serve as camel jockeys. These children live in an oppressive environment and endure harsh living conditions.”

Business in Florida
The suit was filed in the U.S. under the Alien Tort Statute, and specifically in Florida because the Maktoums operate businesses “with billions of dollars of U.S. assets and millions of dollars in Florida assets,” the suit adds.

Just yesterday, the American law firm served legal papers to Sheikh Mohammed at one of the biggest horse sale events in the U.S.  The event was the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in Lexington, Ky.  Sheikh Mohammed is one of the world’s wealthiest horse owners, and a major player in Kentucky.  At the sale, he bid $8.2-million for Awesome Humor, a son of Storm Cat.  The bid was the second highest in the history of the sale.

The suit was filed by Ron Motley, the plaintiffs’ lawyer from Mount Pleasant, S.C. His firm is MotleyRice LLC.

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