Where are the Tampas?

Prof. Willem de Lint1
1Flinders University, Happy Valley, Australia

In August 2001, the MV Tampa was denied entry into Australian waters, an executive decision which precipitated the current neorealist asylum seeker policy of boat turnbacks. Arguably, the policy was awaiting the event; the fixed image of the arrested ship contrasted with the speed and efficiency with which the new off-shore processing policy was implemented. Today, under that policy and Operation Sovereign Borders, Tampa-like spectacles are avoided.

Tampa and its aftermath revivified the neorealist position that sovereignty claims are superior to human rights claims and that individual needs of dispossessed individuals are subordinate to the security needs of the state. The appearance of human rights is an avoidable epiphenomenal spectacle, suggestive of weaknesses in the maintenance of border security.

This view of the significance of the Tampa as an illustration of the suppression of human rights as the subaltern discourse to security and sovereignty is reviewed and further unpacked in this paper.


Willem de Lint is Professor in Criminal Justice. He is the author or editor of books and articles on public order, counter-terrorism prosecutions, transnational criminology, victimology and policing and security studies. He is on several journal editorial boards and has provided expert advice to governments in Canada and Australia on policing and security. He is currently interested in the critical forensics of criminal events.



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