This article explores key issues related to the agitation for human rights in Mozambique and its weak performance power. I define human rights in the context of HIV/AIDS as well as rights-based approaches to development and health. Based on fieldwork, I describe and analyse how human rights are received and applied in HIV/AIDS organisations in Mozambique. The central argument is that the weak performance power of human rights can be explained by the absence of their invocation, social-influence ability and social agitation, with reference made to Sen's (2004) theory of human rights. The article compares original findings to a rights-based approach to AIDS treatment in South Africa reported by Jones (2005). I argue that the successful agitation of human rights depends on skilful appropriation of a rights discourse adapted to the unique social and cultural context of Mozambique. Finally, the theory of transnational governmentality by Ferguson & Gupta (2002) is used to illustrate the challenges posed to an ethnography of human rights in an environment in which civil society and international organisations are simultaneously in alliance with and in opposition to the government.