updated 12/22/2006 6:31:17 PM ET 2006-12-22T23:31:17

United Arab Emirates rulers asked a federal judge on Friday to dismiss a lawsuit seeking damages for thousands of children who were forced to become racing camel jockeys, arguing that the issue is being fully addressed and that U.S. courts have no jurisdiction.

The Emirates, in conjunction with UNICEF, in May 2005 established a program to compensate, provide services for and repatriate young camel jockeys to their home countries, primarily Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan and Mauritania, the court papers said.

A UNICEF report this month said that 1,077 young camel jockeys have been returned home and provided with other assistance, including education. The Emirates on Dec. 11 announced it would set aside a minimum of $9 million to expand and extend the program through 2009.

The Emirates banned use of underage camel jockeys in July 2005.

"As a result of these international efforts, the practice of using underage camel jockeys has ended in the U.A.E, and the lives of former camel jockeys are being changed for the better today," said the motion filed on behalf of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Emirates prime minister and ruler of Dubai, and his brother, Sheik Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum, who is Emirates' minister of finance and industry.

Their lead lawyer in Miami is former U.S. Attorney Marcos Daniel Jimenez.

The lawsuit was filed in September in U.S. District Court in Miami on behalf of unnamed boys and their families. It seeks class-action status and unspecified money damages for about 10,000 boys -- and 20,000 family members -- who were allegedly abducted and sold over a 30-year period to become jockeys in the popular Arab sport of camel racing in various Persian Gulf countries.

The lawsuit claims the boys, some as young as two, were held at desert camps and that some of them suffered sexual abuse, deprivation of food and sleep, and were injected with growth-promoting hormones.

Federal court in Miami is a proper legal venue, the lawsuit contends, because Emirates royal family members own hundreds of horses at farms upstate in Ocala and because no other court in the world could fairly address the claims.

The Emirates rulers, however, say there is no connection between anyone involved in the camel jockey issue and the U.S. court in Florida and that the country's rulers have immunity as heads of state. U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga has not yet ruled on the dismissal request or on whether the case should be a class action.

The lead attorney for the children and their families, John Andres Thornton, said Friday he could not immediately comment because he had not read the Emirates' latest court filing.

The dismissal motion includes several documents in support of the Emirates' program regarding underage camel jockeys, including:

  • A letter from leading Pakistani human rights activist Ansar Burney to Thornton's law firm, Motley Rice LLC, saying that the Emirates has "initiated and implemented effective measures for curbing the use of children in camel racing" and urging that the lawsuit be withdrawn.
  • The recent UNICEF report stating that the "initiative puts children first by providing support to victims of trafficking and exploitation ... it's now up to the rest of the world to follow the initiative and example set by the U.A.E."
  • A State Department report on human trafficking issued in September noting enactment of the youthful jockey ban and stating that "all identified victims were repatriated at the government's expense to their home countries."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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