This article analyzes the different paradigms of human rights policy discourse that characterize non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and governments. Focusing on Canadian-based human rights NGOs and the Canadian government, it uses a five-fold classification scheme to make sense of these competing paradigms of discourse: (1) process: how actors define themselves, and how they define their roles within the international human rights machinery; (2) objectives: perceptions of the purpose of the international human rights system and goals to be pursued therein; (3) scope: the breadth of issue definition and consequent action; (4) evidence: the standards whereby empirical claims are filtered, constructed and judged; and (5) action strategies: the enduring patterns of practical action founded upon the preceding categories. The article shows that despite shared objectives and a common commitment to human rights, NGO and government discourses differ sharply and yield markedly different action strategies. Progress in international human rights will continue to depend on NGO-government collaboration, however, and the article ends with some observations on how these differences in discourse might be addressed.