This article demonstrates the significance of human rights for challenging state violence and terrorism. It is intended to enhance understanding of the concept of emancipation. Critical Security Studies has tended to focus on the individual as the agent of her/his own liberation. Yet many victims of oppression are not able to free themselves. Drawing on historical materialism, it is argued that collective agency on behalf of the oppressed has a necessary role to play in emancipatory politics. Emancipation is contingent on the capacity of specific agents, located socially and historically, to identify practices that might bring about change, structures that might be transformed, and appropriate agents that are in the best position to facilitate such change. This article shows how such collective social action has forced a reversal of some of the Bush administration's repressive policies, and has partially succeeded in curtailing the arbitrary use of US state power. This has been achieved through the national and international human rights architecture. Therefore, Marxian claims that human rights should be eschewed are mistaken, since they fail to acknowledge the emancipatory potential of human rights, the opportunities they provide for collective social action, and the role they can play in transformative social change.