Current academic debate on human rights is characterized by two prominent but seemingly opposed tendencies. On the one hand, scholars generally hold that human rights have entrenched their position as the predominant mode of moral reasoning in international society, with a core set of rights now considered jus cogens; that is, customary international law from which no derogation is permitted. On the other hand, skepticism abounds concerning the practical gains that human rights have achieved on the ground, as a large number of authoritarian regimes espousing a principled commitment to human rights continue to systematically violate their citizens’ civil and political liberties. In this thesis, I argue that these two tendencies are not contradictory but rather complementary and perhaps even mutually reinforcing. More specifically, harnessing the constructivist literature on the role of norms in international relations, I attempt to show how authoritarian regimes that are unable or unwilling to directly challenge human rights’ global discursive hegemony have reinterpreted human rights norms in line with domestic governing values, allowing the regimes to develop their own illiberal conceptions of human rights to which they can claim adherence while continuing to violate their citizens’ rights in the classic liberal sense. In service of this argument, I apply and extend the concept of vernacularization, which norm theorists have used to describe the process by which local norm entrepreneurs reconstruct both the substantive content and rhetorical framing of certain transnational norms in order to render them consistent with the particular culture and customs of their societies. Conducting a discourse analysis of the documentation that eight authoritarian regimes have submitted to the Universal Periodic Review—a UN peer review mechanism that investigates the human rights record of all member states—I consequently show how these regimes have vernacularized five specific human rights norms in order to promote a wide range of illiberal practices. In conclusion, I argue that this process threatens to render “human rights” a floating signifier lacking fixed political content and, as such, poses a covert yet significant challenge to a core component of the liberal world order.