The Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword

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This Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the world's most widely recognized standard for protecting basic human dignity. Predictably, diplomats were falling all over themselves at the United Nations to sing the praises of the document, as delegates from no fewer than 115 countries lined up to speak before the General Assembly. U.N Secretary General Kofi Annan set the tone when he called the declaration "the moral core of all our efforts."

Morality from the United Nations? Well, yes, says TIME Washington deputy bureau chief Jef McAllister. "The U.N. document has actually accomplished much since it was adopted," he says. "Not only is it now invoked everywhere when people feel oppressed, but most importantly, the declaration has helped bestow legitimacy on protesters around the world against the claims of oppressive governments that the dissidents' goals are merely imports of imperialists." Moreover, adds TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell, the declaration has also had a practical bread-and-butter impact: "It has helped underscore the fact that human rights are critical in bringing countries up to speed in other crucial areas, such as economic liberty and stability." So it seems particularly fitting that demonstrators on every continent took up the anniversary this Thursday to stage protests and demonstrations against continued abuses. Happy Birthday, Declaration!