The international community in 2005 agreed that governments have a responsibility to protect civilians and all nations should work to ensure they meet that responsibility.
U.N. delegates held an informal interactive dialogue on the doctrine at the United Nations' headquarters. British Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Peter Wilson said the doctrine extends to preventing mass atrocities.
The Syrian government is accused by its adversaries of killing more than 1,000 civilians, including hundreds of children, in a chemical weapons attack on a suburb outside of Damascus. Wilson said the doctrine extends to acts of sexual violence, endemic during recent conflict in Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The situation in Syria, however, is a "clear example" of a state failing to uphold the doctrine, he said.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said the 2005 doctrine should've "compelled" Syrian President Bashar Assad to protect, rather than attack, his own people.
"It should have," she said during Wednesday's debate. "Clearly, it is the understatement of the year to say we still have work to do [to uphold the doctrine]."