Suella Braverman gave lessons to Rwandan government lawyers during trips supported by president Paul Kagame, The Independent can reveal.
The home secretary travelled to the country in 2008 and 2010, and later co-founded a charity that cooperated with Kigali and trained lawyers now working inside Rwanda’s justice ministry.
At the time, she suggested that the country did not have a “properly functioning legal system”, but told MPs this week that Rwanda was a “fundamentally safe and secure country” suitable for receiving asylum seekers from the UK.
Ms Braverman was a barrister and Tory election candidate during her visits to Rwanda and has not publicised the work since being elected to parliament in 2015.
Care4Calais, which is one of the charities bringing legal action against the Rwanda deal, said she must be “fully transparent” about her past activities after being charged with implementing the stalled £120m agreement.
Founder Clare Moseley said: “That the home secretary who dreams of deporting victims of war, torture and human rights abuses to Rwanda has had links with Kagame’s regime raises serious concerns.
“Braverman asserts that Rwanda is a safe country when the Foreign Office has raised concerns about the country’s human rights record and the UN Refugee Agency has presented compelling evidence that refugees will not be safe there.
“Suella Braverman, and the Conservative Party, must be fully transparent about their relationship with authorities in Rwanda.”
Writing in 2011 under her maiden name, Suella Fernandes, Ms Braverman said she was in a team of volunteer lawyers who “taught advocacy, legal drafting, negotiation and substantive law to judges, government lawyers, community justice lawyers and law students”.
“I also saw for the first time how essential a functioning legal system is to development,” the future home secretary added. “The rule of law is a basic ingredient that enables prosperity to flourish.”
Ms Braverman travelled with Project Umubano, which was described on its now-defunct website as “the Conservative Party’s social action project in Rwanda and Sierra Leone”.
More than a dozen serving and future MPs were on the same 2008 trip, including chancellor Jeremy Hunt, justice minister Damian Hinds, education minister Robert Halfon and Defence Select Committee chair Tobias Ellwood.
Project Umubano was led by current foreign minister Andrew Mitchell, who restored aid payments to Rwanda as international development secretary in 2012 after its government was accused of funding rebel militias in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Mr Mitchell confirmed that Ms Braverman had taken part in Project Umubano schemes in both Rwanda and Sierra Leone, telling The Independent: “She was a terrific contributor to the development efforts of the project and did a great job.”
It is not clear whether Ms Braverman met the Rwandan president, although Mr Kagame is understood to have attended some Project Umubano events and told a local newspaper the programme was “meaningful and will help people back in the UK understand Rwanda better”.
A source close to Ms Braverman said: “The home secretary visited Rwanda as a private citizen before she was an MP. Afterwards she set up a charity to help train lawyers from the country. The idea this in some way compromises her judgement on Rwanda is clearly ridiculous.”
The home secretary alluded to the visits during an appearance before parliament’s Home Affairs Committee this week, when she responded to a question on whether the country would be safe for asylum seekers from the UK by saying: “I have actually visited Rwanda twice, quite a while ago around 2010 or 2009, and I’ve always found Rwanda to be a very inspiring country actually.
“We would only ever work with countries that we assess to be safe and that will treat asylum seekers in accordance with relevant human rights law.”
Ms Braverman called Rwanda a “fundamentally safe and secure country” and said she was confident that the deal to send asylum seekers there would be implemented, despite legal challenges alleging politically-driven human rights violations including torture, murder and kidnappings.
An article co-written by Ms Braverman following her 2008 visit suggested it did not yet have a “properly functioning legal system”, and said she had worked with the country’s Institute for Legal Practice and Development and ministry of justice.
“What struck us most was the almost total absence of what we as UK lawyers often take for granted,” it added. “The new lawyers there must be both pioneer and jurist in creating working 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 operating in 2016, described its mission as “building legal capacity in sub-Saharan Africa” and contributing to the development of “robust, stable and predictable legal systems”.
The Africa Justice Foundation arranged for Rwandan government lawyers to study at UK universities on specialist masters courses.
The Independent has uncovered records showing that some of those on the programme are now working for Rwanda’s ministry of justice and in public institutions such as the Bank of Kigali.
None are known to be directly involved in the Migration and Economic Development Partnership, which was signed after negotiations led by the Home Office before Ms Braverman’s appointment as home secretary.
The High Court has heard that her predecessor Ms Patel and former prime minister Boris Johnson had a “special interest” in Rwanda, despite the country being initially ruled out of consideration by the Foreign Office.