MIAMI – The United Arab Emirates' prime minister wants President Bush to help win dismissal of a federal lawsuit that accuses the country of forcing thousands of children to work as racing camel jockeys, saying the case is straining relations between the two nations.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, also the ruler of Dubai, stressed in a letter to Bush that the Emirates is "a key partner in the global war against terror" and wants Bush to bring his "personal attention" to the suit.
He said the case "is causing an unnecessary interference with the good and mutually valuable relations" between the two countries.
The lawsuit, which was filed in September in Miami — where members of the Emirates' royal family maintain hundreds of horses — accuses the UAE's rulers lawsuit of enslaving 10,000 boys over three decades and forcing them to work as camel jockeys in various Persian Gulf countries. Most of the children are from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mauritania and Sudan.
"I must emphasize the request for United States' support for dismissal of the case in its entirety," said the letter, dated Feb. 11 and filed in federal court last week.
Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said Wednesday he was not aware of the sheikh's letter but added that "typically, the White House does not get involved in legal matters such as that."
The State Department did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
In December, however, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote a note assuring the Emirates' foreign minister that her department was watching the case and praising steps they have taken to address the child camel jockey issue.
"We appreciate the efforts made by the United Arab Emirates to regulate the treatment of camel jockeys," Rice said in the Dec. 26 note, also recently added to the court file.
The unusually high-level contacts are the latest attempt by the Emirates to persuade a federal judge and governments around the world that it has adequately dealt with the issue by creating a program to compensate, provide services for and repatriate the child jockeys involved. That program was recently expanded and extended through April 2009.
The jockey case was brought under a 218-year-old U.S. law known as the Alien Tort Statute, which provides federal courts with jurisdiction over certain civil cases involving foreigners. A recent surge of U.S. lawsuits invoking the law has caused debate in legal circles, with some attorneys claiming it is being abused.
U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga has scheduled a July 16 hearing on the Emirates' motion to dismiss the case. Aside from its camel jockey program, the Emirates contend the lawsuit should be thrown out because U.S. courts have no jurisdiction and its rulers are entitled to sovereign immunity.
Among other things, the lawsuit contends that Miami is a proper venue because Emirates family members own horse farms in Ocala and because no other court in the world would adequately deal with the claims.
Attorneys representing the camel jockeys did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Wednesday.