This article analyses the broad shifts in the relationship between peace settlements and human rights from 1990 to the present day. The article points to three phases of development: from 1990 to 2000, which saw a rise in peace processes and agreements and creative engagement with human rights; from 2000 to 2010, when new approaches to human rights and peacemaking were rapidly ‘normativized’ in new international legal standards, but at a cost of a more nuanced political practice; and from 2010 to the current date, an ‘era of disillusionment’ as regards the apparent failures of peacebuilding efforts, where human rights also have a more precarious global position. In the current era I suggest that we are witnessing renewed attention to the ‘politics of the local’ which questions and even rejects formalized human rights approaches to formalized peacebuilding. Counter to the pessimism of the current era, I suggest that this new context may in fact offer new opportunities to return to the idea of human rights as a political practice. Rather than approaching rights as a set of external normative standards to propel liberal institution-building, human rights-based peacebuilding would aim to support a political practice in which rights are given meaning through the process by which they are ‘negotiated’ into being as part of an ongoing politics of inclusion. Such an approach would not only assist engagement with peace processes but might also invigorate a radical conflict prevention approach.