COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina National Guard State Partnership Program hosted a week-long information exchange with seven members of the Colombian military and National Police May 22-27, discussing human rights and operational law. The group included four judges, one attorney and two human rights experts.
The exchange consisted of discussions with the University of South Carolina Rule of Law Collaborative, meeting U.S. Federal judges and a mock trial at the Richland County Courthouse, all aimed at deepening the shared knowledge between the partner nations. The group also toured the State Emergency Operations Center in West Columbia, learning how the National Guard supports county and state emergency managers during times of natural disasters.
The week's events were part of an ongoing effort for the South Carolina National Guard to support U.S. Southern Command's legal objectives of operational law reform, development of human rights initiatives and military justice reform in Colombia.
"We are an integral part of executing SOUTHCOM's legal support priorities for the Colombian military," U.S. Army Capt. Matthew Pinckney said.
Pinckney, a judge advocate with the South Carolina Army National Guard, is serving as a legal attaché in Bogota, Colombia for U.S. Southern Command, and serves as legal advisor to the U.S. military leadership in Colombia. Pinckney, who is a civilian attorney in Greenwood, South Carolina, is on a year-long tour.
Pinckney added the State Partnership Program is in a position to address the needs of the Colombians, and provide support to SOUTHCOM.
"We can help with a lot of the things they've identified," Pinckney said. "The roles we have in the South Carolina National Guard provide us with the unique capability to address concerns of the Colombian military as they prepare to end a decades-long conflict with the FARC."
Colombian air force Capt. Cristo Marin said the engagement was beneficial, and the group learned a great deal.
"It's been a very good experience," Marin said. "We saw the importance of justice in America."
Marin, who is a military judge in Colombia, said the mock trial at Richland County Courthouse was extremely educational to show how American prosecutors did their jobs.
In June, five South Carolina National Guard lawyers will travel to Bogota to continue the discussions from the May engagement.
"One of the highlights of this engagement was the interaction between the Colombian military and the University of South Carolina," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. David King, State Partnership director, for the South Carolina National Guard. "As the Colombians move into the post-conflict era, they are seeking ways to transform their legal system for the post agreement."
The South Carolina National Guard's partnership with the Republic of Colombia began in 2012, and has since conducted more than 50 engagements ranging in topics including law, disaster response and maintenance programs.