The women who are all from the United Arab Emirates have been accused of bringing their servants to Europe without a work visa and then holding them in inhumane conditions.
The case could have far-reaching consequences.
Princess Shekha Alnehayan and her seven daughters traveled to Brussels regularly. In 2008 they rented their usual luxury suite in the Conrad Hotel for several months. And they brought along at least 20 servants, who had to attend to every wish 24 hours a day, without enough food, without a bed and without a visa, let alone a work permit for Brussels.
Now the eight princesses stand accused of violating labor regulations and of human trafficking.
Overworked and unpaid
“The servants were not paid, they worked day and night and had to sleep on the floor.
The princesses shouted at them and abused them continually,” says Patricia LeCocq, spokesperson for the Belgian human rights organization Myria.
Things only came to light when one of the servants fled and reported the case to the police. That triggered an investigation and police found the allegations to be true: The women were being held in inhumane conditions. A large-scale investigation was launched and the case landed in a Belgian court.
But it took nine years for the actual trial to get underway.
The Alneyahans are one of the most influential families in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and made international headlines when they bought the Premier League football club Manchester City.
Belgian media reported that the royal family’s lawyer repeatedly claimed police had violated the princesses’ rights by searching their hotel rooms. The ensuing legal battle took years.
Furthermore, the case was largely ignored by the press. “I couldn’t believe that the media didn’t report on this more,” says Nicholas McGeehan from Human Rights Watch. He has been researching human rights abuses in the Gulf States for many years.
He confirms that this is not the only incident of servants being brought from the Gulf to Europe illegally and then mistreated.
But the case is very much in court now.