Friday, 12 May 2017
8 UAE princesses stand trial in Belgium for ‘continually abusing’ servants
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.
"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.
One possible explanation as to why the case took so long to make it to court is the lack of attention from the media, activists said.
"I couldn't believe that the media didn't report on this more," Nicholas McGeehan from Human Rights Watch told Deutsche Welle.
McGeehan hopes that the latest trial will change things for the better. According to the rights activist, if the women are convicted, "it will link one of the wealthiest families in the world to human trafficking and slavery."
However, there is little chance of success, activists said.“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,” Le Cocq noted.