Royal pain: a case involving belt-whipping and gay flirtation could soon play out in Europe's high court.
WHEN SILVANO ORSI visited a Geneva hotel in August 2003, he never imagined it would lead to an international legal battle spanning years. Orsi, an Italian-American New Yorker in Switzerland for work, says he was the target of sexual advances that night by Sheikh Falah bin Zayed Bin Sultan al-Nahyan, whose brother is now president of the United Arab Emirates. The sheikh, Orsi says, tried sitting on his lap and later sent a bottle of Dom Perignon to his table--Orsi sent it back. Al-Nahyan, surrounded by bodyguards, punched and kicked Orsi before whipping him with his belt, the American says.
In July 2008 a Swiss court found the sheikh guilty of inflicting bodily harm with the use of a dangerous object. But in March 2009, without disputing the beating, an appeals court ruled a belt was not a dangerous object when used to whip a person in the face, reversing the initial decision. Orsi then tried appealing to the Swiss high court, which refused to hear the case. Now Orsi wants to sue Switzerland in the European Court of Human Rights. "This shouldn't happen in the same city as the [Geneva Conventions]," he says.
Orsi, who is straight, notes that the UAE is known to arrest gays and threaten to inject them with hormones. Orsi adds that the UAE ruling family exhibits hypocrisy by punishing homosexuality among the nation's citizens, while at least one family member goes abroad for gay exploits (the sheikh denies he's gay).
Sharon Singh, a Middle East expert for Amnesty International, says the UAE does have a history of human rights abuses, but not as egregious as those of neighboring nations. Still, Orsi believes the Swiss high court refused to hear the case because of oil interests and alliances with the UAE.
"They just want to prevent me from filing this case," he says. "But my family is behind me, and we're fighting this case no matter what."