This article considers how lecturers can use human rights education as a core element of preparing students for professional social work practice. This paper is based on a symposium held at the EASSW conference in Madrid 2019 which was hosted by members of an interest group of lecturers, from Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland. The symposium elaborated on the interest groups action plan: ‘Human Rights, turning words into action’. The group posit that the application of human rights in social work practice should follow the rights and interests of service-users. The challenge for educators is that that in the first instance, students must learn about human rights instruments and enforcement mechanisms and then they must be schooled about the discursive, dialogical and democratic particularity of rights. Ignoring this character of human rights risks reducing rights to a technical debate. This article reflects on some of the difficulties, pitfalls and drawbacks that we have encountered, and some of the critiques of current human rights structures. The aim is to try to develop a ‘practice of critique’ and propose a strategic human rights agenda for professional social work education and practice.