Pressure from outside the UAE played a major role in the landmark decision to put an end to the heinous practice, which involved human trafficking of thousands of young boys from developing Arab nations, but has it really come to an end? Many believe that the supremely wealthy rulers of the United Arab Emirates, simply moved the practice underground.
The ban on camel jockey slaves was praised in the media and signaled the UAE's transformation into a modern state. Much was made of the decision to replace camel jockeys with tiny robot riders, another symbol of progress being made by the Arab nation.
The story of the UAE’s camel boys is deplorable but also emblematic of the complete disregard for human rights and human life by the Arab country’s ruling elite.
Trafficking Camel Boys
At the heart of the UAE camel jockey story is a morbid tale of human trafficking, child abuse and distain for the planets most destitute human beings.
It also involves some of the Arab world’s most prominent and wealthy individuals, which includes the ruler of Dubai and the Prime Minister of the UAE Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Makthoum.
Thousands of boys have been sold or kidnapped from impoverished countries across the middle east but primarily from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Boys as young as 2-years-old are taken from the streets of their home countries and sent off to become camel jockeys for the entertainment of UAE elites.
Prior to the 2005 ban, it was estimated that more than 6,000 young boys are kept in what are known as “ouzbahs”, a type of camel farm under brutal conditions that are reminiscent of concentration camps.
The unfortunate boys kept on an "ousbah", an isolated camel farm, are caught up in a nightmare of hellish proportions. After experiencing the trauma of suddenly being separated from their families, they are made to work 18-hour days. A camel jockey-in-training is also starved, beaten and sometimes sexually abused. Serious injury, even death, is a fate that also awaits many of the child riders, some as young as five, when training or racing over distances between four and 10 kilometres atop of 800-900 pound animals that can run as fast as 40 miles per hour. Even if the rider does not fall, damaged genitals is one of the serious wounds the slave boys often suffer.
“They used to wake us at two or three in the morning. If we didn’t get up or thought we were lazy, they would beat us with sticks,” one former child camel jockey told a British newspaper. “We had to clean up the camel dung with our hands.”
The children are routinely kept in cramped tin shacks under the blazing desert heat reaching temperatures as high as 52 degrees Celsius.
It’s hard to imagine starving and beating a small child for weeks and then later placing the same child on top of a large racing animal where children face the prospect of being trampled to death if they make a single mistake.
A high-quality racing camel may fetch tens of thousands of dollars, while the slave boy camel jockeys may cost the owner just a few hundred. It’s little wonder then, that the owners are more concerned with the health of their animals.
Another boy, Zufiqar, 10, said that race day represented the worst time due to the injuries and deaths he saw the camel jockeys suffer when thrown from their fast-moving mounts. And if the camel was also injured, Zufiqar stated “They always look after the camel first.”
When it comes to camel racing, the younger and lighter the riders are, the better. The lighter the jockey the faster the camel. The optimal weight for a camel jockey is about 15kg. This is the reason young boys are beaten and starved at the ouzbahs. If there are not camel races scheduled, the boys are used for hard labor often made to work 18 hour days.
In 2006, the Independent reported that secret camel races have indeed gone underground as UAE slave owners wish to evade a 20,000 dirham fine or imprisonment.
Clandestine races are reportedly being staged on remote desert flats. Though gambling is outlawed, lavish prize money is awarded by corporate or tribal sponsors, and underground bets are no secret.
Young girls and pregnant women are also targeted by traffickers seeking to sell them in oil-rich middle eastern states.
Traffickers have also sometimes been caught at Third World airports leaving for the Arabian Peninsula with their human cargo. In 2007, one was caught in Karachi with both a boy and a young, pregnant woman. He was headed for Oman where he planned to sell the boy as a camel jockey and the girl as a sex slave. Her unborn baby was also destined to become a camel jockey or a sex slave, according to Pakistani police, who claim pregnant women are being trafficked for the purpose of producing future slaves.
It has been reported that oil-rich nations such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar continue forms of modern day slavery in the form of foreign domestic workers and laborers from impoverished nations across the Muslim world. A common practice is to confiscate the passports of foreign workers and make them 'pay off' debts to their employers.
The Ruler of Dubai
Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Born: July 15th, 1949
Country: United Arab Emirates
Official Title: Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE
Official Title: Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai
Accomplishments: Involved in launching Emirates Airline, DP World, and the Jumeriah Group.
Project Overseer: The Burj Khalifa, Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City, Dubai International Finance Centre, and Palm Islands.
Net worth - $14 Billion (Forbes, 2017)
Business – Dubai International Corporation
Business- Majority shareholder in Dubai Holding conglomerate withe stakes in HSBC, Sony and New York Essex House Hotel.
Class Action Complaint
A lawsuit was brought against Sheik Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum in 2006 on behalf of the families of 6 unknown camel jockey slaves victims. The class action complaint was received by the United States District Court Southern District of Florida, on Sept. 7th, 2006.
The Florida complaint alleges that sheikh Mohammad, his son Hamdan and 500 others of being involved in the trafficking of boys as young as two from South East Asia and Africa.
From the Guardian;
The suit claims the Dubai royals, who have global racing interests, were especially complicit: 'as makers of the de facto rules of the sport, as hosts of the camel races, and with the knowledge that the source of child camel jockeys was the slave trade ... [they] caused the enslavement of boys by other sheikhs [and] conspired with them to enslave boys.
The complaint also highlights the fact that the US State Department’s 2005 TIP (Trafficking in Persons) Report for the UAE clearly demonstrates that the US government considers the camel jockey phenomenon as “slavery”.
Link to Wikileaks 2006 TIP Report for the UAE
The State Department's 2006 TIP report details the significant progress made by the UAE in implementing the camel boy ban. Highlighted in the report are the efforts of the UAE government providing assistance to some 1,051 boys to return back to their native countries helping to repatriate children in Pakistan, Mauritania, and Bangladesh among others. The UAE has spend approximately $2 million in this effort.
However, it was estimated by the UAE government and by NGOs that about 3,000 to 9,000 camel jockeys were believed to be residing in the country indicating that only a fraction of the children were returned to their homelands.Despite the discrepancy in the numbers, the UAE's Ministry of the Interior has concluded that, more or less, all have been repatriated. It is for this reason that many speculate that the use of child camel jockeys has been moved underground.
The plaintiffs in the case filed against Mohammad and Hamdan, recognize that the alleged enslavement of children took place outside of US jurisdiction but make a series of arguments as to why the courts should proceed against the Mohammad and Hamdan Maktoum.
In part, they argue that since the Maktoum family conduct billions of dollars-worth of business inside the US (including Florida), won and operate several corporations in the US and own multiple residences millions of dollars in investment real estate in the US and Florida.
Interestingly, the argument is also made that since the Maktoum family are among the elite families in the UAE there’s no chance that any legal action can be redressed against international trafficking and enslavement by the defendants. The complaint states that the Maktoum family is effectively above the law, so no legal action is possible from Dubai or the UAE.
An article by the New York Sun reports that a similar lawsuit was filed in the US District Court in Lexington, Kentucky against Hamdan Maktoum in the same year. In this case, the suit brought by the class-action firm Motley Rice LLC under a 1789 law. In some instances, lawsuits involving distant violations of international law can give America jurisdiction as interpreted by the US Supreme Court.
As Dubai’s deputy leader, Sheik Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum had already sought to have the case thrown out arguing that the case has no relation to the United States. Furthermore, Hamdan argued that the UAE already is providing compensation to the camel jockey boys so the lawsuit is unnecessary.
Representing Dubai’s ruler, spokesman Habib Al- Mulla stated that:
"We've said from the beginning that this case doesn't belong in US courts and we're gratified by Judge Altonaga's careful legal analysis and ruling"
While the UAE did clean-up its act in 2005 by banning the use of child slave jockeys it did so only after intense international pressure. It has also been suggested by child advocacy groups such as Pakistan's Ansar Burney Welfare Trust that the practice has survived by moving underground.
Ansar Burney continued to investigate the issue and reported several sightings of the use of children in the races around the country. According to US State Department reports, the UN has not been able substantiate claims that clandestine camel racing circuits continue to persist.
In Recent News
Earlier this week, it was reported that Latifa, the daughter of Sheik Mohammad Maktoum, had been kidnapped, held captive by her father and brought back Dubai. With the assistance of friends, Latifa attempted to flee Dubai by crossing the border to Oman where they boarded a yacht that was destined for Goa, India. Once in India she planned on boarding a plane to fly to the United States where she planned to apply for asylum.
The yacht never made it to India as it was intercepted by military ships and helicopters in international waters.
This is not the first time one of Maktoum's daughters has been kidnapped and detained for trying to escape Dubai. Almost twenty years ago, Latifa's older sister Shamsa also attempted to escape Dubai and the control of her father in 2001. After fleeing her father's UK estate in Surrey, she was abducted in broad daylight off the streets and smuggled back to Dubai.
Disobedient Media's Elizabeth Vos has reported on the latest news involving the disappearance of Latifa Al Maktoum.
In perhaps her last video address, Latifa describes the kidnapping of her sister Shamsa, drugging, beating and the ordered torture by Sheik Mohammad of his own daughters in detention. Latifa had also made an earlier attempt to flee Dubai and was apprehended at the border. She was also beaten and tortured for her disobedience.
This is Latifa Al Maktoum's unedited video about leaving Dubai.
Latifa's statements on her father Sheik Mohammad Maktoum
"All of this public image that he's trying to portray is bullshit."
"He's the most evil person I have ever met in my entire life."
"He's pure evil. There's nothing good in him."
"He's responsible for so many people's deaths and ruining so many people's lives."
"He doesn't care about anyone. He only cares about his image, his reputation and he will gladly kill somebody but he doesn't do it himself he just ... he doesn't do the dirty work himself he'll just get other people to do it, he doesn't care."
"After my uncle died, he killed one of his wives, he killed her. Everyone knows about it, the Moroccan one. Because her behavior was too outrageous..."