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Recent intellectual histories about the emergence of human rights ideas in the 1970s stress how they became a plausible utopia when others failed. In these accounts, human rights replaced Socialist revolution or armed insurgency with a moral language that sought to transcend politics and the state. This article argues that this story loses sight of some processes that took place in other places of the Global South where the dreams of armed revolution and Socialism did not fade away so easily. Examining the Colombian case, this article shows how human rights ideas emerged within the framework of a contested political environment where revolutionary and democratic readings of human rights coexisted at least until 1980.