In 2008, eight U.A.E. princesses brought their servants to Belgium and alleged “abused them continually” — now they stand accused of violating labor regulations and have gone on trial.
Princess Shekha Alnehayan, widow of Sheikh of Abu Dhabi, and her seven daughters arrived in Brussels along with 23 servants of eight different nationalities. They booked an entire floor of a luxury suite at the Conrad Hotel for several months.
While they enjoyed their stay at the luxurious suite, it was not the same for their maids. According to Patricia LeCocq, spokesperson for the Belgian human rights organization Myria, “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,"
However, things came into light when one of the servants managed to escape the hotel and reported the situation to the nearest police station. The maid, who was identified as Jamila, prompted law enforcement officers to act against the princesses.
Jamila told La Derniere Heure, a local media outlet, that she fled, without clothes, without luggage and without a passport.
“I did not have a room, I slept in the corridor of the floor. It was constant verbal abuse. The princesses did not like their Moroccan and Tunisian maids. They called us b****es,” Jamila said.
Although the investigation was launched immediately, it took nearly a decade for the case to make its way to the Belgian court. According to Nicholas McGeehan from Human Rights Watch, it took such a long time for the case to make it to the court because of the lack of attention from the media.
“I couldn't believe that the media didn't report on this more,” he said.
However, McGeehan has high hopes from the court as he believes the case will change things for the better.
“The trial itself could have an effect. It will link one of the wealthiest families in the world to human trafficking and slavery," he added.
However, the princesses’ defense team has repeatedly claimed that security forces violated their rights by searching their suite in Brussels. The Alneyahans are one of the most influential families in the Emirates and made international headlines when they bought the Premier League football club, Manchester City.
@RT_com Commendable Justice by Belgians. No Human has right to hurt anyone, even emotionally.— Pathfinder (@humanphile_) May 11, 2017
LeCocq fears that there is little chance of success.
“If the court decides there is enough evidence to support a charge of human trafficking, the accused may have to pay compensation to their employees and may even face a prison sentence," she said. "But the problem is that this case is already several years old. Even if the princesses are convicted, chances are the verdict could be very mild."
For decades, domestic helpers in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, hailing from developing south and Southeast Asian countries, have suffered torture at the hands of their wealthy, mostly Arab, employers. Recently, an outrageous incident came to light where an employer simply filmed a house maid hanging from the seventh floor of an apartment in building in Al-Salem, Kuwait. As the desperate woman begged for the help, the lady of the house mocked her and kept filming until the maid fell.
@RT_com Nothing surprising or shocking about these royals!— Maya Varma (@swargcoming) May 11, 2017