The presentation considers contribution of Luhmanns systems theory to the understanding, analysis and development of human rights theory and practice. Luhmanns own voluminous heritage contains only some tentative suggestions regarding the role of international human rights from the perspective of systems theory. Moreover, interpretation of these suggestions is complicated by some uncertainties surrounding Luhmanns observations regarding the impact of globalization on the legal and the political systems. This is particularly obvious if contemporary interpretations of Luhmanns systems theory and human rights are considered. I will argue that despite these shortcomings and uncertainties Luhmanns systems theory holds a great potential for a better understanding of the functioning of human rights and can provide a basis for future reform proposals. However, this is only possible if systems theory is enriched by additional insights on its various aspects. One of these aspects relates to the relationship between the mechanisms and needs of the global society and the politico-legal systems claim to universality through human rights. I will address this point through an interpretation of the 1975 Luhmanns piece Weltgesellschaft where Luhmann opposes traditional preference of social systems for normatively oriented mechanisms to the preference of the global society for cognitive mechanisms. Developments after 1975 indicate that the global society indeed requires cognitive mechanisms. Can human rights under such circumstances maintain their relevance for the global society and respond to its needs? What changes and adaptations might be required? What additional research is needed in order to answer these questions?