Rhetorical acknowledgment of the value of human rights for the AIDS response continues, yet practical application of human rights principles to national efforts appears to be increasingly deficient. We assess the ways in which international and national strategic plans and other core documents take into account the commitments made by countries to uphold human rights in their efforts towards achieving Universal Access. Key documents from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM) and the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) were reviewed along with 14 national HIV strategic plans chosen for their illustration of the diversity of HIV epidemic patterns, levels of income and geographical location. Whereas human rights concepts overwhelmingly appeared in both international and national strategic documents, their translation into actionable terms or monitoring frameworks was weak, unspecific or absent. Future work should analyse strategic plans, plans of operation, budgets and actual implementation so that full advantage can be taken, not only of the moral and legal value of human rights, but also their instrumental value for achieving Universal Access.