Why 8 Arab princesses are on trial in Belgium

The Belgian court proceedings center around UAE princess Sheikha Hamda al-Nahyan, 64, and her seven daughters.

An aerial view of people walking through the Brussels Grand' Place (photo credit: REUTERS)
An aerial view of people walking through the Brussels Grand' Place
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The trial of eight princesses from the United Arab Emirates opened last week in Belgium over a case of alleged human trafficking and abuse of servants during the royals' stay in the European country.
The Belgian court proceedings Thursday and Friday centered around princess Sheikha Hamda al-Nahyan, 64, and her seven daughters.
The accusations facing the members of one of the Arab Gulf nation's royal families date back to a 2008 incident, in which one of some 20 servants accompanying the princess on their stay in Belgium reported the alleged labor violations to local police.
The royals had rented their usual luxury suit for several months at the Conrad Hotel when the accusations emerged by servant who had fled the apparent plush prison and reported to police of the "inhumane conditions" the attendants allegedly endured.
According to the BBC, the plaintiffs said they had not been permitted to leave the hotel, were forced to eat the princesses' leftover food, were not provided with proper work visas and were not provided compensation.
"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," Germany's Deutsche Welle cited Patricia LeCocq, spokesperson for the Belgian human rights organization Myria, as saying.
Legal battles waged for nine years before trial as the Emirate family's lawyers charged that police searches had been illegally conducted.
The defendants' legal representation also charged that facts of the case had been exaggerated by certain complainants.
"Do you think that the family was afraid that they would go away? It would not have been difficult for them to have found staff in this type of work," said Stephen Monod, one defense lawyer in the Belgian trial.
The defense further argued that the company that allegedly signed employment contracts with the plaintiffs should be the party present in court.
The al-Nahyan family holds great influence in the UAE and the consequence of the case remains to be seen while a verdict is reportedly unlikely to be issued for months.
"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," LeCocq 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.”