Suella Braverman briefed traveling Rwandan government lawyers assisted by President Paul Kagame. The Independent can reveal.
The Home Secretary traveled to the country in 2008 and 2010 and later co-founded a charity that worked with Kigali and trained lawyers who now work in Rwanda’s Ministry of Justice.
She pointed out at the time that the country did not have a “properly functioning legal system” but told MPs this week that Rwanda was a “fundamentally safe country” suitable to receive UK asylum seekers.
Ms Braverman was a lawyer and candidate for the Tory elections during her visits to Rwanda and has not published the work since her election to Parliament in 2015.
Care4Calais, one of the charities taking legal action against the Rwanda deal, said it had to be “completely transparent” about its past activities after being tasked with implementing the stalled £120million deal.
Founder Clare Moseley said: “That the Home Secretary, who dreams of deporting victims of war, torture and human rights abuses to Rwanda, had links to the Kagame regime is a matter of serious concern.
“Braverman maintains that Rwanda is a safe country, even though the State Department has raised concerns about the country’s human rights record and the UN Refugee Agency has presented convincing evidence that refugees are not safe there.
“Suella Braverman and the Conservative Party must be completely transparent about their relationship with the authorities in Rwanda.”
Writing under her maiden name Suella Fernandes in 2011, Ms Braverman said she was part of a team of volunteer attorneys who “taught judges, government attorneys, community justice attorneys and law students about advocacy, drafting law, negotiation and substantive law.”
“I also saw for the first time how important a functioning legal system is for development,” added the future interior minister. “The rule of law is a key ingredient that allows prosperity to thrive.”
Ms Braverman was traveling with Project Umubano, described on its now-defunct website as “the Conservative Party’s social action project in Rwanda and Sierra Leone”.
More than a dozen current and future MPs made the same trip in 2008, including Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, Justice Secretary Damian Hinds, Education Secretary Robert Halfon and Defense Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood.
Project Umubano was led by current Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell, who, as Secretary of State for International Development, returned aid to Rwanda in 2012 after his government was accused of funding rebel militias in the DRC.
Mr Mitchell confirmed that Ms Braverman had participated in Project Umubano programs in both Rwanda and Sierra Leone and recounted The Independent: “She was a great contributor to the development efforts of the project and did a great job.”
It is not clear if Ms Braverman met the Rwandan President, although Mr Kagame reportedly attended some of Project Umubano’s events and told a local newspaper the program was “meaningful and will help the people of Britain better understand Rwanda”. .
A source close to Ms Braverman said: “The home secretary visited Rwanda in private before becoming an MP. After that, she started a charity to train lawyers from the country. The notion that this in any way affects their judgment of Rwanda is clearly ridiculous.”
The Home Secretary alluded to the visits during an appearance before Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee this week when, when asked if the country was safe for UK asylum seekers, she replied: “I’ve actually visited Rwanda twice, quite a bit Before about 2010 or 2009, and I’ve actually always found Rwanda to be a very inspiring country.
“We would only ever work with countries that we consider safe and that treat asylum seekers in accordance with relevant human rights laws.”
Ms Braverman called Rwanda a “fundamentally safe and secure country” and said she was confident the agreement to send asylum seekers there would be implemented despite legal challenges over alleged politically motivated human rights abuses including torture, murder and kidnapping.
An article co-authored by Ms. Braverman after her 2008 visit suggested that there was still no “properly functioning legal system” and said she had worked with the country’s Institute for Legal Practice and Development and the country’s Department of Justice.
“What struck us most was the almost complete absence of what we as British lawyers often take for granted,” it added. “The new lawyers there must be both pioneers and lawyers when it comes to creating functioning and legitimate legal structures.”
In 2011, Ms. Braverman co-founded a charity called the Africa Justice Foundation with other lawyers, including Cherie Blair.
The charity, which ceased operations in 2016, described its mission as “building legal capacity in sub-Saharan Africa” and helping to develop “robust, stable and predictable legal systems”.
The Africa Justice Foundation arranged for Rwandan government lawyers to study at UK universities in specialized masters courses.
The Independent has uncovered records showing that some of the program’s participants now work for the Rwanda Ministry of Justice and in public institutions such as the Bank of Kigali.
No one is known to be directly involved in the Migration and Economic Development Partnership, which was signed following Home Office-led negotiations prior to Ms Braverman’s appointment as Home Secretary.
The Supreme Court has heard that her predecessor Ms Patel and former Prime Minister Boris Johnson had a “particular interest” in Rwanda despite the country being initially excluded from the Foreign Office.