It has been 70 years since world leaders explicitly spelled out the rights everyone on the planet could expect and demand simply because they are human beings. Born of a desire to prevent another Ho¬locaust, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights continues to demonstrate the power of ideas to change the world.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is – obviously – a document about human rights. So why is dignity listed before rights in Article 1?

Article 2 states that everyone is entitled to all the freedoms listed in the UDHR, “without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” The last words of this sentence – “other status” – have frequently been cited to expand the list of people specifically protected.

The first six words of this short article are at the heart of global attempts to end the death penalty. If it enshrines the right to life, abolitionists argue, how can state-sponsored killing be justified? As South African Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “to take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, not justice.”

Men bought and sold like commodities, held for years against their will on fishing boats off Thailand. Yazidi women sold into sex slavery, raped daily and passed from owner to owner. Human beings offered as birthday gifts to children.

There is one absolute prohibition in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that is universally accepted as unequivocal: Article 5’s ban on torture. At times, states may have disputed the definition of what constitutes torture, but virtually none now openly defend the practice, even if some still carry it out in what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described as “some of the darkest corners of our planet.”

After setting standards for dignity and freedom, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) devotes a cluster of articles to standards for the administration of justice including what is often known as “due process.” Roughly one-fourth of the UDHR is devoted to legal human rights.

At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, women in many industrialized countries fought for the right to vote. “There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers,” said U.S. suffragette Susan B. Anthony.