Eight Emirati princesses were found guilty of human trafficking and abusing their servants by a Brussels court on Friday (23 June).

The case dates back to 2008 but was only brought to court this year. The abusive treatment Princess Sheikha Hamda al-Nahyan and her seven daughters inflicted on their 20 servants only came to light when one of the victims escaped from the Conrad Hotel in Brussels where the family had moved into luxury suites for eight months.

The servants told the court they had to work seven days a week, were prevented from leaving the hotel and were forced to eat the princesses' leftover food. One of them was deprived of food and water for three days.

The princesses, who are relatives of UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, denied all charges.

The royals were given a 15-month suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay €165,000 (£145,000), with half the sum suspended. They were acquitted of the more serious charge of inhumane treatment.

The women did not attend the trial and human rights activists said it was unlikely that the UAE would extradite them if they had been jailed.

Stef Janssens, an activist for the human rights organisation Myria, said it had taken nine years for the victims to win justice because the case had been stalled by procedural challenges.

"The princesses are of course very important people with immense means and prestige, while the victims are very vulnerable," Janssens told the BBC.

"The princesses hired three specialist lawyers who twice went to Belgium's highest court to challenge procedure. Not everyone has the means to do that."

Nicholas McGeehan, a Human Rights Watch expert on migrant workers in the Gulf, told the BBC that the judgement was "hugely significant" as it publicly linked one of the wealthiest families in the world with human trafficking and slavery.

He said that domestic slavery in the Gulf was "perpetuated by ruling elites for whom it serves an important societal purpose in conferring status".

UAE princesses
One of the victims arrives to attend the trial of 8 UAE princesses who have been convicted of human trafficking and abusing their servants at the Brussels criminal court on 11 May 2017 DIRK WAEM/AFP/Getty Images