Amid much pomp and fanfare, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wife, Bun Rany, was yesterday bestowed a doctorate in literature from a Chinese university, making it the fifth such degree in her collection for her “humanitarian work”.
In a graduation ceremony held at Chaktomuk Hall, Rany was awarded the PhD – identical to one her husband received in 2015 – from Guangxi University of Nationalities, a tertiary partner of the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
A director at the Guangxi institution, Xie Shango, said Rany received the honour for her focus on friendship with China and her promotion of Chinese-Cambodian education and culture.
He stressed the doctorate was not simply for literature, but to show appreciation for her development efforts in Cambodia.
Rany, the president of the Cambodian Red Cross (CRC) – whose honorific Samdech Kittiprittibandit roughly translates to “supreme high scholar” – accepted the degree on behalf of her fellow women.
“The honorary PhD certificate in literature which samdech receives from Guangxi University in China is not just for samdech, but it is an honour for all Cambodia, especially women,” she said.
Yet Rany’s position at the helm of the CRC has been heavily criticised by observers for what they characterise as unashamedly aligning the charity with her husband’s ruling party.
“The CRC purports to uphold the network’s core principles of neutrality and independence but does little to hide its political allegiance and has been referred to as the ‘humanitarian wing’ of the Cambodian People’s Party,” according to the group Global Witness.
Yet CRC deputy director Men Nearysorphors said the charity prioritised the vulnerable and never discriminated along political lines, and maintained the award was well deserved because Rany “had come up with creative ideas, by herself, since 1979 to help women and children”.
When asked what contribution Rany had made to the literary world, RUPP Khmer Literature department head Thea Sokmeng declined to comment, saying, “I cannot talk about that”.
Political analyst Billy Tai said the practice was not uncommon. “I would suggest that this is potentially more about political favours than any actual recognition of achievements,” he said.
Additional reporting by Erin Handley