The rulers of the United Arab Emirates are being accused in a lawsuit of enslaving tens of thousands of young boys over the past three decades and forcing them to work under brutal conditions as camel jockeys.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status and was filed last week by unnamed parents of boys as young as 2-years-old who were allegedly abducted, enslaved and sold to serve as a backbone in the sport of camel racing. More than 30,000 boys could have been victimized in what the suit calls "one of the greatest humanitarian crimes of the last 50 years."

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the crown prince of Dubai, and Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum, the deputy ruler, were the most active perpetrators of the crimes, the lawsuit said.

CountryWatch: United Arab Emirates

The lawsuit was filed in Miami because the members of the royal family maintain hundreds of horses at farms in Ocala, Florida — among their billions of dollars in U.S. assets.

"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 lawsuit said.

Telephone message left at the United Arab Emirates embassy in Washington, D.C., after hours were not immediately returned. John Andres Thornton, the Miami Beach-based co-counsel for the children, said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum had been served with the lawsuit on Monday while buying horses in Kentucky.

The lawsuit claims the boys were taken largely from Bangladesh, Pakistan and elsewhere, held at desert camps in the UAE and other Perisan Gulf nations, and forced to work. It claims some boys were sexually abused, given limited food and sleep and injected with hormones to prevent their growth.

"Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Hamdan treated their camels better than they treated their slave boys for the simple reason that the camels were far more valuable," the lawsuit said.

Camel races are immensely popular in the Persian Gulf. The UAE banned the use of children as camel jockeys — long favored because of their light weight — in 1993, but young boys could still be seen riding in televised races for years afterward.

The problem was highlighted in the U.S. State Department's June 2005 "Trafficking in Persons Report."

The sheikhs are heavily invested in U.S. horse racing and the crown prince owns Bernardini, the winner of the 2006 Preakness Stakes. They also own Dubai Ports World, whose involvement in port operations in Miami and elsewhere sparked Congressional concern, and the Dubai Holding Co. and its subsidiaries, which own hotels, apartment buildings and health care facilities.

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