Dubai's ruling family has been served with a class-action lawsuit in the United States accusing them of masterminding an international child slave trade to provide jockeys and attendants for the popular desert sport of camel-racing.
The suit names both Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the crown prince of Dubai, and his brother, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktoum, as being "the most active participants" in the slave trade, which was described and denounced in a US State Department report on human trafficking last year.
According to the suit, as many as 30,000 boys from South Asia and Africa could have been victimised in what it calls "one of the greatest humanitarian crimes of the last 50 years".
"Because camel racing is extremely dangerous and arduous, especially for children," the suit says, "the Arab sheikhs would not make their own children jockeys and trainers. The sheikhs instead bought boys who had been abducted and trafficked across international boundaries and enslaved as young as two years old...
"The defendants robbed parents of their children and boys of their childhoods, their futures and sometimes their lives, for the craven purposes of entertainment and financial gain."
The suit identifies six families as plaintiffs in the suit, although it does not name them. The case is being brought under the Alien Tort Statute, which dates back 200 years but has become a popular means to redress wrongs taking place far outside the borders of the United States.
The suit was filed in federal court in Miami, because the Maktoums have vast horse farm holdings in Florida - part of a multi-billion dollar investment they have in the US, ranging from sporting pursuits to hotels, residential buildings, health care facilities and Dubai Ports World, the company that tried unsuccessfully to take over six leading US ports last year.
"There is no venue outside the US in which the [boys] can possibly get redress for being trafficked internationally and enslaved," the plaintiffs' lawyers said. The suit was filed last week, but the Maktoum brothers received the paperwork only in the past couple of days - Sheikh Mohammed at a horse sale in Kentucky and his brother at their Florida farm. They have issued no response of any kind.
The suit appeared to be modelled closely on last year's State Department report. It said that enslaved children "live in an oppressive environment and endure harsh living conditions. They work long hours in temperatures exceeding 100F, live in unsanitary conditions, receive little food, and are deprived of sleep so they do not gain weight."
The State Department said some boys complain of sexual abuse, and others are beaten. "Many have been seriously injured and some have been trampled to death by camels," the report said. "Those who survive the harsh conditions are disposed of once they reach their teenage years. Having gained no productive skills or education, scarred with physical and psychological trauma that can last a lifetime, these children face dim prospects."